Not all heroes wear masks — some make them.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 reached Pike County, local residents have banded together to help suppliment reserves of masks for medical personnel in case they run out.

Sheila Conn, who retired from McComb School District 12 years ago, said she wanted to find a way to help.

She called Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center officals and received donated material to make masks.

“It makes me feel very good. We need to help our local folks,” Conn said.

Conn, 60, said she started watching YouTube videos and experimenting with different patterns until she found the one she liked the most. She said the pattern is easier than it looks.

“It took me a few days to get it right because I am not a real seamstress, but I can sew,” Conn said.

When all was said and done she made 73 masks with the material she was given and plans to make more if needed.

Conn said she is fairly new to sewing, having started a few years ago, and then took about a year’s break until starting back up to help with mask making.

“I got to drag my sewing machine out and help people,” she said. “Whatever we can do to help out, I feel like we need to.”

Conn said she also has made and wants to make more masks for front-line hospital employees including custodians and administrative personnel.

Conn said she has not sold any masks, but she has made them for friends.

Respiratory therapist Janice Oatis has taken to making and selling masks not for just essential employees and hospital workers but for anyone who asks for one.

“This started from my whole thing of staying at home,” Oatis said. “I wanted to do something to give back in a way that I can actually utilize my talent for sewing. I posted it to Facebook and it went off.”

Her regular masks are two for $12 and she makes some with a high-efficiency particulate air filter for $25. She said for every mask she makes for profit, she makes one to donate to an essential worker.

“I am actually an essential worker myself, and just to see the people in need and I can actually provide a service to them, it is rewarding,” Oatis said.

She said she wanted everyone to know that her masks do not prevent people from catching the virus, but they do provide some protection.

“I think that they need to know there's a difference in masks, and it isn’t going to prevent catching the coronavirus. It just reduces the chance,” Oatis said.

She said there has been a great response from not just Pike County but across the nation. She is sending 50 masks to a home healthcare company in Memphis.

“There is a big request out there for them,” Oatis said.

Nancy Rowell, teaching assistant at North Pike Elementary, said making masks was her way of helping since she was unable to help with the school district due to family members being at risk.

“I was not able to help at the school because my husband and mom are in the high-risk category, so I couldn’t take a risk of going out there and getting exposed,” Rowell said. “This was my way of helping.”

Rowell, 60, said her daughter told her the hospital was looking for people to make and donate masks, so she jumped at the chance.

“God gave me the talent to do it,” she said. “It gives me something to do.” 

After making the masks for the hospital, she went on to make some for her friends, family and those she knows that are older or in need.

She said masks are becoming popular now because of the recent CDC recommendations to wear them. She also said she carries a mask in her purse and in her car in case she needs it. She said she hasn’t left her house since last week, but if she has to, she will wear a mask.

She said she does not deserve all of the credit for her masks. A lot of people are donating fabric around the county and they deserve just as much praise as she does.

Bonnie Wimberly also made masks for the hospital and some close friends. She said it is the least she can do for her community.

“If I can save one live, it is worth it,” Wimberly said.

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