SOUTH BEND — When guidelines were issued for the reopening of churches in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Debby Blum realized that her fellow parishioners at Corpus Christi might not have masks to wear to Mass.
“I didn’t want anyone to be unable to come into church because they didn’t have masks,” she said.
So, equipped with the skills she learned years ago in 4-H, Blum dusted off her trusty sewing machine, dug out her stash of fabric left over from sewing for her daughter and grandchildren, and went to work.
When Justine Soboleski-Rucano, a fellow member of the parish Altar and Rosary Society, learned what Blum was doing, she joined the cause. Soboleski-Rucano was already a veteran mask-maker: She had already drawn on sewing skills learned in high school to make hundreds of masks for family, community and medical personnel, including her nurse daughter’s colleagues.
In just the few weeks that churches have been open, the two women have produced over 100 masks that are made available to parishioners on a table in the vestibule, along with individual bottles of holy water packaged by the Altar and Rosary Society.
“The masks have been going like hotcakes,” Blum said.
Each mask is packaged in plastic and labeled small, medium or large, and the variety of fabric patterns is as varied as Blum’s remnants and Soboleski-Rucano’s ability to score bargains at fabric stores all over town. Blum explained that “gender-neutral” fabric is used as much as possible, since men generally don’t care for floral masks.
One obstacle the women encountered was a shortage of elastic, since so many mask-makers had emptied out the stores. Soboleski-Rucano solved that problem by ordering a 110-yard spool of elastic from Amazon, which she has shared with Blum and other community mask-makers. Blum said that since elastic was such a hot item, she felt a little bit like she was receiving contraband when Soboleski-Rucano would deliver packages of it to her at church.
The leftover elastic still will be put to good use. Because the masks almost disappear each Sunday, the women are still sewing away— well, except for Soboleski-Rucano, who is taking a well-deserved break while her machine is repaired.
“I think I killed it” with all the mask-making, she said, but added that she has loved the project and getting back into enjoying sewing after a long hiatus.
Father Daryl Rybicki, pastor of Corpus Christi, applauded the women’s efforts to make sure people feel welcome at church.
“It’s been a wonderful thing,” he said. “I think it’s terrific these ladies have taken it upon themselves. They mercifully have the time and the ability to do that.”
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