The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
SEVEN HILLS, Ohio — Even though Margie Mitchner is a former member of the Quad City Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the longtime Seven Hills resident still feels compelled to help out her community.
“As a former CERT member, we periodically get emails,” Mitchner said. “They recently asked if there were any people who could sew out there that would help out. I’ve sewed since I was a child, so — of course — I responded.”
Seven Hills Fire Chief Jamie Meklemburg said earlier this year when COVID-19 hit he felt good about the city having 10,000 N95 masks leftover from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic; however, he soon learned the old masks had one issue.
“The elastic kept breaking off, so we were kind of in a bad spot,” Meklemburg said. “I saw other departments throughout Northeast Ohio that were having the same issues. After talking to a couple other chiefs, I learned they were sewing new elastic on them.
“That was kind of the route we went. I put word out to our community emergency response team (CERT). They got in touch with their members and we had three or four ladies who volunteered to sew the new elastic on for me.”
Seven Hill Mayor Anthony D. Biasiotta said the city is fortunate to have many volunteers at the core of many community events.
“Therefore, it was no surprise to me that these ladies stepped up once again to help with the N95 masks used by our fire department,” Biasiotta said.
So far the volunteers have restored roughly 2,000 masks with Mitchner recently fixing 600 on her own before starting on the next 200. She said the process is simple — replacing the old balloon-like rubber with half-inch elastic bands.
“I was a federal worker and am very patriotic,” Mitchner said. “I’ve done alterations, custom sewing and embroidery for my children for years. It was just a natural thing for me to do it during this particular time of our lives.
“After living in the community for about 45 years it’s automatic for me to want to give back and help out, especially our firefighters. Chief Meklemburg is so great to work with. We’re fortunate to have him in Seven Hills.”
The fire chief, who was appointed earlier this year, said he was hoping to use the spring to get to know the community. Now the mask-repair initiative is doing that, just not in the fashion he expected.
“This has been a learning opportunity about how our residents step up in a time of need,” Meklemburg. “I’ve had two or three other people stop by and drop off donations of N95 masks or gowns or goggles. There’s been so much food getting delivered to the fire station.
“We’ve just had an outpouring from the community that has honestly been tremendous and has been so much more than I anticipated.”
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