Esther Manuel has sat countless times behind her sewing machine to fashion clothes and sew quilts for family members and friends. A few weeks ago, however, when Manuel switched on the machine, she did so for a greater purpose.
Like many Americans, Manuel, an extension agent with the SC State University 1890 Research & Extension Program, read numerous articles and watched news stories of healthcare professionals and other frontline employees who work without the necessary personal protective equipment (or PPE) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. PPE is the protective clothing worn to minimize potential exposure to infectious diseases. In those moments, Manuel said she felt helpless and wondered how she could help.
“I remember watching the news, and a nurse in one of the stories talked about how she had to wear one mask for four consecutive days. She [the nurse interviewed] went on to say that when soldiers go into combat, they are prepared and given the equipment they need; but in the case of the coronavirus, many healthcare workers lack protective equipment. It just made me cry,” said a reflective Manuel, who lives in Fairfax, S.C. and works in the Low Country Region Extension office.
A few days later, a conversation with her daughter, Syderist, compelled Manuel to use her love of sewing to help nurses who work nearly 90 miles away from her. Manuel’s daughter shared with her mom that a friend and former classmate, Tijuana Bradley Roberts, who works at Georgia Cancer Specialists in Lawrenceville, Ga., needed more masks. It was at that moment, Manuel decided to sew masks for her daughter’s friend and colleagues.
Three days later, Manuel shipped 25 masks to Roberts.
“I was doubtful that they would be able to use them. I was unsure if they would be allowed to wear them,” said Manuel. But a photo on Facebook showing the recipients wearing the masks eliminated all doubt for Manuel.
“When I saw them wearing the masks, it put a smile on my face. Being able to provide the masks makes you feel like you are doing something for someone, for the community. It is just so rewarding,” beamed Manuel.
Manuel leads a group of 10 women in Hampton County, who often gather to sew quilts. The quilting club, called the Golden Girls, operates through 1890 Extension’s Low Country Region office. The “girls” have sewn and provided quilts to residents in nursing homes and those in need of warm coverings.
Manuel’s good deed has spread throughout the community. She is now working with students at Allendale-Fairfax High School, a partner with the regional office. Students in the debate club will distribute additional masks sewn by Manuel to local nursing home facilities as part of a service project.
“I am so excited to help and use my talent, especially at a time like this. To see so many people who say they need masks but can not find them just breaks my heart. I see it as a matter of life and death,” said Manuel.
“I am grateful to have a skill that may help save someone’s life.”