Q&A with Mid-South Medical Mask Makers’ Selena Silvestro

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Selena Silvestro is the co-founder of the Facebook group, Mid-South Medical Mask Makers. Delilah Heatherly is the lead administrator.
The public Facebook page is Mid-South Medical Mask Makers.
The sister group is the North MS Medical Mask Makers, based in Olive Branch (serving Desoto County and surrounding areas, which is led by Emily Wallace.)
Please direct questions to our email addresses: midsouthmaskmakers@gmail.com or northmsmaskmakers@gmail.com.
Q: How did you start your group and how has it evolved to serve medical professionals?
Our Mid-South Medical Mask Makers group was created to match the needs of our medical community with volunteer mask makers!
My friends Delilah Heatherly and Tresha Mandel and I launched the group on Friday, March 20th in response to the COVID-19 crisis. To make sure we were providing the best masks possible, we teamed up with a group of nurses, doctors, and medical professionals to learn about important best practices to fit their needs. We’re in continual communication with the medical community for valuable feedback and to process mask improvements.
Since we kicked this off, we’ve donated just over 20,000 masks to medical professionals, in-home caregivers, nursing home staff and residents, and essential workers.
We have 1,682 members. Outside of our group distribution, our members have also donated just over 14,500 masks to friends and family – many recipients working in the medical field.
Q: How can the community help? Is there a “call to action” we can help with?
While we don’t accept cash for masks or any monetary donations, we will gladly accept donated supplies and volunteer drivers for porch pick-ups and drop-offs. Our greatest donation need is elastic – soft ¼” or thinner ⅛”. Members helping to cut patterns and volunteering to drive are just as important as those who can sew!
Q: How do you know what kinds of masks to make? How are they used?
We began researching the need for cotton masks in the medical field due to pandemic shortages and spoke to many professionals who explained how medical teams are reusing their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – both N95 masks and the thinner “disposable” medical masks. Medical professionals are often wearing their medical masks for longer periods of time than safely recommended due to the extreme shortage right now of proper PPE.
These handmade cotton masks could be worn over medical masks to hopefully extend the life of their PPE.
We have been told that medical professionals are saving hospital grade filter materials to use inside cotton masks for filter protection if N95 masks have become unavailable.
Never underestimate the ingenuity of our medical community! They are front line superheroes doing their best to protect themselves and heal the world!
Sanitizing information:
Medical professionals can wash our masks, use UV light, or Autoclave to sanitize. We have requests for pocket or pouch style masks and 2-layer non-pouch designs (both elastic earloop design and fabric ties.)
As a disclaimer, we realize the gold standard of PPE N95 mask is needed to best protect from COVID-19, but the medical community is finding it hard to meet their needs. These masks are NOT intended to ever replace the N95. They are only precautionary to limit contact. Medical teams are wearing these handmade masks over their N95 masks to hopefully extend the life of the N95 masks. The COVID-19 virus has created an unprecedented demand for PPE and the CDC does recommend bandanas, scarves, or alternative face coverings when no other proper protection is available.
Q: How does everyone stay motivated to keep sewing masks?
What’s incredible is the connection to so many people who want to help support the front lines! In WWII, the Greatest Generation came together – young men went off to war, communities planted Victory Gardens, and women worked in factories for the war effort. This is a scary time for everyone – there’s a battle with an unseen enemy and our medical community is struggling to protect themselves, save patients, and make sure they don’t bring the virus home to their loved ones.
We can all volunteer from home to sew or make safe deliveries with porch pick-ups and drop-offs.
To help keep members motivated, we are recognizing the effort of all of our members using honor rolls.
Since we started this group, we also helped launch the North MS Medical Mask Makers with Emily Wallace as a sister group serving Desoto County.
We’ve seen an effort across the country — it’s a mask-making movement filled with sewing groups, quilters guilds, Moms groups, churches, and people from all parts of society coming together for the greater good! Just incredible!
Q: Can anyone receive these masks?
It’s important to note that we prioritize mask requests to fulfill the large demand by our medical community – both individuals and larger department requests.
For non-medical professionals, we try to help essential workers and at-risk individuals when we can.
We also guide everyone to watch the CDC video on YouTube to learn how to make masks from common household fabrics.
We’re 100 percent committed to continuing this mask-making project until the medical supply chain can keep up with the incredible demand for brand new PPE.
Until then, we’ll keep the sewing machines going!
We are thankful to have an opportunity to help in a small way and hope to inspire more people to join up. Find us on Facebook to read more and request to join: Mid-South Medical Mask Makers.
Medical professionals can connect with us at MidsouthMaskMakers@gmail.com

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