By Timothy Walch
For The Catholic Messenger
“What you have done for the least of my brethren,” Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “you have done unto me.” You can’t define everyday Christianity any better than that. And every day, in so many ways, Catholics and people of good will across southeast Iowa have been carrying out that message.
We all have seen the manifestation of the message in the heroic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors, nurses, paramedics and so many others have rushed in to help the sick, the hungry — the less fortunate in general.
I personally have seen and heard the message manifested in the work of a cadre of women from St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. Like all of us, these women, who share a passion for the needle arts, looked for ways to help in the crisis.
They heard the cry that more protection was needed for health care workers and their patients. Local hospitals and healthcare facilities were looking for masks, gowns and face shields to keep the virus from spreading. Women with sewing machines rallied to the call. We can make masks, they said.
St. Thomas More parishioners Linda Aker and Vicki Walch, along with their friend, Pam Ehrhardt, have coordinated the project since it started on March 12. Other parishioners, including Char Elbert, Chris Luzzie, Marge Heine, Audrey Knox and Diane Cox, soon joined with dozens of volunteers drawn primarily from three organizations — the Old Capitol Quilters Guild, Days for Girls, and The Preemie Project.
The coordinators developed kits that included fabric, elastic and interfacing. Kits were picked up by the volunteers who assembled the masks, often enhancing the kits by using fabric and additional materials from their personal sewing supplies, and returned completed masks for distribution to facilities and organizations in need, including hospitals, clinics, care centers, police departments and social service agencies in Iowa City and the surrounding area.
That this work has been successful is an understatement. This army of volunteers produced more than 5,000 masks in just four weeks and is still going.
More information on the Iowa City Area Face Mask Project is available on the Old Capitol Quilters Guild website at: https://www.ocqg.org/sewing-face-masks-for-virus-protect.
It is important to note that the volunteers assembled by this project came from all over the area, not just St. Thomas More Parish, but it does reflect the values of many of the vibrant ministries of this faith community. Similar efforts are underway across the nation, meaning that thousands of other people in other parishes and congregations also are fulfilling Christ’s message by sewing masks.
Perhaps the most important message that has come through this project is how much we all can do in small ways to protect the vulnerable, support the heroic and share the love of Christ. If you look closely, you can read that message through the eye of a sewing needle.
(Timothy Walch is a lay director of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and a member of the Board of Directors of The Catholic Messenger.)