Neighborhood volunteer group cranks out thousands of masks in Carpinteria
“Carpinteria is an unusual, extraordinary little town,” said 81-year-old retiree Pat Beals. “It’s very plain and simple, but the people are so cohesive and caring and generous and kind.”
If you need proof, look no further than Neighbor to Neighbor.
That’s a volunteer mask making initiative run by Mrs. Beale and her neighbors in Carpinteria.
With dozens of volunteers and reportedly the most efficient operation in town, Neighbor to Neighbor has become a testament to the family values of Carpinteria, where friends have come together to sew and donate masks with so much effort you’d think it was their full-time job.
“This place was made for a volunteer effort like this,” said Mrs. Beals. “It is an honor. When I think about it, I cry because it really touches your heart.”
Neighbor to Neighbor is a group of 69 volunteers taking on wire and cloth cutting, sewing, distribution and management to manufacture thousands of masks for businesses and organizations around the county.
Although they started keeping track late in the game, the group of business owners, retirees and lifelong sewers have put approximately 10,000 masks into production.
Neighbor to Neighbor has so far donated masks to 51 organizations, businesses, agencies and restaurants in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta. They include Lemo’s Pet Supply, Postal workers, Carpinteria Community Church, Assisted Living, the Goleta Trader Joe’s, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Nutbelly and Jack’s Bistro, just to name a few.
Recently, Mrs. Beals asked for a list of where Neighbor to Neighbor masks have been distributed from one of the volunteers.
“When I got it I was stunned. I had no idea we’d covered so many. I think we’ve got all of Carpinteria covered,” said Mrs. Beals.
At first, it was just Mrs. Beals making masks. All the way back in February, she realized that they were going to be needed.
Mrs. Beals has considerable experience with mass production sewing. Now retired, she founded multiple costume and dress-up chest companies, starting when she was 28 years old, growing her business until her designs were sold in Costcos around the world. Because she knew masks were going to be needed, Mrs. Beals simply began making them.
Lynn Menicucci, a retired nurse and Mrs. Beals’ good friend, was incredulous at first, and said no one would use masks that were not N95 quality.
“She kept knocking at me and biting my heels, which she does,” laughed Mrs. Beals. “She has a great sense of humor and I love her to death. By mid-March I was just buried with requests.”
Now Neighbor to Neighbor is a seriously intense group effort.
Ms. Menicucci offered to lend a hand and manage phone calls and distribution.
“I think she probably regrets that every day of her life now. I mean, we’re two old women who came out of retirement, cranked up our engines and got going on this!” said Mrs. Beals.
“Hers is the hardest job because she has to say no to some people. ‘No, this care facility needs them more than your family does.’ ‘No, this family needs them more than your care facility.’ ”
Everyone brings something to the table.
Louise Moore, founder of Crafty Ladies, a group who sews pillowcase dresses for girls in third world countries, took on supervising the sewing volunteers.
Although she says she’s not a great sewer, Mrs. Beals’ talents lie in mass production.
In the ’90s, she traveled frequently to China and Taiwan, teaching factories best practices for efficient production. Now she applies the same principles with Neighbor to Neighbor, albeit with volunteers instead of employees.
“I’m good at this. I have a long background in this and all this stuff I’ve learned the hard way I apply it to how we produce our masks. I’m working with home sewers, and they’re not as agreeable to doing it in full on mass production techniques. Working with volunteers is a lot different than working with employees!”
Nevertheless, her streamlined organization seems to have paid off.
“In Santa Barbara, the mast coordinators up there tell me we’re just by a longshot ahead in terms of quantity,” said Mrs. Beals.
“We are burning holes in the ground, we’re going so fast now.”
Neighbor to Neighbor volunteers package materials for 20 masks and distribute them to the sewers. After they sew the masks, they are delivered to another group who insert the elastic before they are sent to distribution.
Ms. Menicucci fields requests and emails regarding donations, and then sends the finished product to Carpinteria’s 76 gas station where they are picked up.
A lot of credit for keeping the operation going goes to Bill Holmes, who is in charge of cutting and forming wires for all the masks. It’s long tedious nightly work, and Mr. Holmes is the only volunteer left. He keeps at it despite his busy job as a general contractor.
“It’s a good group. Tightly organized and real friendly. We grow every day,” said Mrs. Beals.
The group has also made donations to individuals and families, and is currently working on an order for the Santa Barbara Police Department and distributing to Carpinteria’s mobile home parks and Hispanic community.
They are constantly on the lookout for volunteers, especially people to sew.
Those interested in sewing or cutting or who want to request a mask can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Carpinteria, everyone wants to be a part of the effort, said Mrs. Beals.
“This pandemic has really brought the goodness out of people. It’s given us an opportunity just as human beings to relate to each other. To see each other, to actually see with more than just our eyeballs and to show our care and help each other,” said Mrs. Beals.
“It’s exhausting, it’s inspiring, it breaks your heart with joy, it breaks your heart with sadness. It’s incredible.
“It’s a lifetime experience.”