By Carina A. Brunson
Photos by Dennis Zanetti
We all know Winter Texans contribute a great deal to the Rio Grande Valley during their winters with us. They often donate to local charities, help schools out with supplies, donate time to shelters and animals, gather food during the holidays for people here and in Mexico, and make quilts and other items for those in need.
A new and urgent need caught the attention of a group of Alamo Rec-Veh Park (ARVP) women. These ladies, who primarily sewed quilts in the past, learned how to make masks… in a big way.
In February and March when COVID-19 was really hitting and shutting things down, this group decided to shift gears. They started with a simple pattern and went from there. One member of the group, Kathy, has a relative that works in the nursing field who said she desperately needed masks for patients and visitors. The ladies sent her more than 100 masks. Then, they donated over 1,000 homemade masks locally.
ARVP Manager Barbara Hamel said the ladies have done such a great job.
“They have taken a lot of their time to do this,” she said. “It says a lot about these people.”
“We are lucky to have them,” she continued. “They are always willing to jump in and help. They care about our people.”
The group decided at the beginning of their “manufacturing project” that their masks were not going to be for sale. Instead, they were going to be given to those who needed them most.
Even after most Winter Texans left ARVP to escape the hot summer heat, the few ladies who stayed vowed to carry on the mask project.
Three group members were high risk – one was a cancer survivor, and two others have husbands in cancer treatment. They felt staying in the Valley for the summer would be safer for them than traveling to their out-of-state homes.
Continuing their mask project, they worked to stay safe, keeping tables six feet apart and sometimes making the items in their own homes before gathering them to distribute. Each woman donned their own masks when getting together to complete their “donation” masks.
The core group included Evelyn, Kathy, Peggy, Glenna Lou, Judi and Maggie. A few others joined in and helped where they could. “Everybody gave their time,” said one of the ladies.
Even if someone did not know how to sew, there was cutting, pinning, ironing, trimming, folding and other tasks to do to get the masks completed.
“It was a collaborative effort” and an almost assembly-line style at times, said the ladies.
Peggy said there was never any question each day about what she was going to do. It became a daily project for her to work on and to enjoy.
“We have gotten to know more people,” said Evelyn. The ladies said they have met people from places in the community they donated to. Now they even know some by name at the cancer center.
We started something we knew nothing about, said one of the ladies. Then they learned to use different kinds of materials for mask ties – like T-shirts – and shop towels for filters.
Many people contributed, whether with sewing skills, assembly, ironing, or donating time and material. Two generous park residents, Mrs. Opal Womack and Colleen Benoit, donated bolts of material and ties for the masks to keep this project going.
The mask-making ladies said they enjoyed filling their time while ‘Covid-stuck’ in the Valley. While working for others, they found fellowship and a simple way to give back to the community they have grown to love so much.
“It’s being able to give” that is the most rewarding, said the ladies. “It gives us a purpose.”
After the need for homemade Covid-19 masks subsided, the group – now self-named Wednesday Ladies Labors of Love – switched gears and began making blankets, bibs and burp pads.
In the past two months, more ARVP women joined the core Wednesday group to help complete 50 blankets and 40 burp pads. Mary Lou contributed her talents to make 28 bibs before Christmas.
Blankets were donated to organizations that distributed them to people who did not have heat in their homes and to nursing home residents to make their stay more comfortable. Bibs and burp pads went to health clinics that wanted to entice pregnant women to come to their appointments and to help women with infants in shelters.
Receiving the latest batch of donations were such groups as the Alamo Fire Department, Alamo OB-Gyn, McAllen Women’s Shelter, Retama Nursing Center (Edinburg), and Women Together Shelter (McAllen).
Currently, ARVP’s growing “Labors of Love” group is working on items for Driscoll Children’s Hospital in McAllen.
The dedicated women look forward to being together on Wednesdays.
“They are all lovely, generous, uplifting ladies who give of themselves and their resources to help others,” Glenna Lou said. “I love being with women like that!”