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  • COVID Heroes: Employees put the pedal to the treadle to make face coverings

    Some County employees are putting their sewing skills to good use, stitching hundreds of face coverings for friends and strangers alike to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    One such seamstress is Assistant County Administrator Wendy Petersen, who has found her sewing skills are in high demand.

    During the COVID-19 outbreak, Petersen began sewing face coverings for family and friends to wear so they could slow the spread of the virus. “Most of them were very girly,” she says of her early masks, “because that’s what I had in the fabric tub.”
    Wendy Petersen
    And then her work and lifelong hobby intersected.

    Petersen, who oversees the Justice and Law Criminal Justice Reform Unit, restarted the Jail Population Review Committee meetings after a brief hiatus during the pandemic. The committee decided that any nonviolent inmate granted early release in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the jail population should be prepared to be a safe citizen. Donated tote bags were filled with hand sanitizer, materials on coronavirus safety and other items.

    “Somebody said, ‘I think we should put in some masks’ and asked, ‘Wendy, do you think the county would pay for this?’”

    Petersen scoffed.

    “Pay for masks? I said, ‘Hell, I’ll make them!’”

    So she did.

    Using a simple pattern found on YouTube – two oblong 6x8 pieces of 100 percent cotton, with a small piece of flannel for the middle filter – she went to work on her Bernina sewing machine.

    “I wanted to be sure I used nothing provocative,” she says of the choice of fabric. “That’s why I was just using patterned or floral-type fabrics for the inmates.”

    The County did step in a couple of weeks ago and began supplying paper masks to distribute to those released from jail, ending Petersen’s efforts in that area. But she remains as busy as ever after work thanks to requests from her staff and their families, and even a request from a local nonprofit organization.
    Harlan Agnew
    One problem: The cute patterns of flowers and butterflies didn’t exactly fly with her co-workers.

    “They weren’t very popular until I brought in the superhero masks,” Petersen says. 

    It didn’t stop there.

    Kate Vesely, the Director of Reform Initiatives for the County’s Criminal Justice Reform Unit, happens to be a big Star Wars fan.

    “I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I find the movies boring,” Petersen says. “I know that’s like being un-American or something. But everybody wanted Star Wars fabric for these masks, so I went online and got Baby Yoda fabric and a Darth Vader fabric. Apparently one of the fabrics, which explains why it cost so much, came from England.”

    That particular fabric shows alternating images of Darth Vader in front of Stormtroopers, and Adam Driver as the character Kylo Ren.

    At one point, Petersen’s Bernina machine needed servicing, so she brought the Sears Kenmore from her childhood – when she made her own clothes -- out of retirement to keep on rolling with the masks and Star Wars themes. Her husband, Harlan Agnew, retired from the Pima County Attorney’s office, helps by cutting the fabric for the masks.

    “I have a bunch of orders,” she says. “So I’m still going to make them.”

    Mom and daughter have made more than 600 face coverings

    Wastewater Reclamation employees Nancy Fitzpatrick and Erika Swan, a mother and daughter duo, took to their sewing machines over the last several months to make more than 600 masks in their efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve. 

    Fitzpatrick is an administrative specialist with Wastewater’s Conveyance Division out on Dodge Boulevard, and Swan is an administrative support specialist at Wastewater’s downtown offices.
    Erika and Nancy
    Donated masks initially went to a friend of Erika’s, who is a nurse at Banner University Hospital, who then distributed to transplant teams, physicians, and within the ICU, emergency room, and pharmacy. Some were distributed to Tucson Police Department and eight went to City of Tucson Zoo employees. 

    As Nancy and Erika came into contact with other essential workers, such as postal employees, food delivery workers, and grocery store clerks, they were kind enough to hand a mask over. Nancy and Erika provided some masks to compromised family members, personal friends, and friends of friends. 

    Their efforts didn’t stop there. Before the County starting supplying face coverings, some County departments were on the receiving end of Erika and Nancy’s donated masks.

    About 150 went to Wastewater’s Conveyance Division staff, while additional masks were given to Finance, Human Resources, Facilities Management, and other Wastewater Reclamation divisions. 

    Both donated as much as possible, and struggled with the fact that we were going to have to charge people once their fabric and elastic supplies had been depleted. A $5 donation covers their costs. 

    “We appreciated the opportunity to help keep our community a little bit safer,” Nancy and Erika said.

    Top: Assistant County Administrator Wendy Petersen put her sewing skills to good use.

    Middle: Petersen's spouse, Harlan Agnew, retired from the Pima County Attorney’s office, helps by cutting fabric.

    Bottom: Wastewater's Erika Swan (left) and her mom, Nancy Fitzpatrick, have kept their sewing machines busy during the pandemic.
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