Bridget Frazier is a lot of things: wife to a disabled veteran, mother to 6-year-old twins, a nursing student at Pellissippi State Community College and an emergency room technician at Parkwest Medical Center.
But since March 20, she’s also found the time to sew more than 700 surgical masks – and ship them all over the United States to people in need.
“I noticed the shortage across the nation, and when I went in to work over spring break, we were already having to start limiting to one mask per day,” Frazier explained. “I came home, and that was the same day the CDC told us to go ahead and put a bandana around your face. I thought, ‘That is not going to work!’”
Frazier, 30, has been sewing since she was 12. She started researching what kinds of fabrics work best in lieu of the N95 surgical masks that are in such short supply during this coronavirus pandemic. Then she took her own mask from her Pellissippi State nursing pack and traced it.
“It took three attempts,” Frazier remembered, laughing. “The first two were pretty terrible. They probably wouldn’t have fit on a Barbie doll.”
The third time was a charm, however, and Frazier got right to work sewing masks. With a father with multiple sclerosis, a mother with rheumatoid arthritis and a daughter with asthma, it was important to Frazier to protect her family as well as her friends who are medical professionals.
“When I shared some photos on social media, it blew up,” Frazier recalled. “I was getting requests from all over: doctors’ offices, hospices. I didn’t know the demand was going to be so crazy. I wasn’t expecting people to respond the way they did.”
Local orders can be picked up from a basket on Frazier’s porch – she’s serious about social distancing – but she also has mailed masks to Hawaii, Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, New York, Washington, D.C., and counting. On Friday alone, she sent 60 to Texas, 20 to Virginia and 12 to a critical care unit in Colorado.
Frazier doesn’t charge a thing, not even shipping, but accepts donations to help her continue buying fabric and elastic bands – an activity she does twice a week, armed with a mask, gloves, Lysol and hand sanitizer.
“I go to the store and the post office twice a week and limit the time period I’m out,” Frazier stressed, noting she otherwise is sheltering in place with her family. “I bought almost $100 worth of fabric (in one trip) so that I won’t have to go back out for a while because no one was observing social distancing. I was like Pac-Man. I’d see them coming down an aisle, and I’d turn and go the other way. I was like, ‘Stay six feet back!’”
Frazier estimates she’s spent several hundred dollars on the project so far between fabric, elastic and shipping costs, but she’s not going to stop making masks.
“With such a mask shortage right now, and so many people having lost their jobs, I don’t want people to go without because they can’t afford them or they can’t find them,” Frazier said. “I ask people if they want to make a donation, but if they don’t, that’s totally fine. You’re definitely going to get your masks!”
From March 20-28, Frazier was able to crank out 100-120 masks per day. Now that Pellissippi State classes have resumed online – Frazier is on track to graduate in May and has accepted an RN position at Parkwest, pending the outcome of her state boards – she’s sewing 20-40 masks per day, but she also has some help.
“So many people have reached out to me on social media who have felt compelled to go buy a sewing machine and start sewing masks,” she said. “I have eight to 10 people who are learning right now. I made them a video of how to make masks, which is not an easy thing to do. The design I made is complicated, and these are beginner sewers. I’m so proud of them!”
She shrugs off any accolades pointed her way, however.
“I don’t view myself as an inspiration,” Frazier says simply. “I saw a need, and I figured out a way to fill that need.”
‘For the love of God, stay home’
Pellissippi State Community College nursing student Bridget Frazier shares here, in her own words, what she’s seeing in Knoxville:
“People aren’t understanding how serious this is. Across the world, 20-40-year-olds are dying because they can’t breathe and we don’t have enough ventilators. It is very frustrating because everybody keeps posting how appreciative they are of nurses, but they are not doing what we ask them to do.
“For the love of God, stay home! Practice social isolation. Wear a mask when you have to go out. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. It is going to affect someone you know within the next several weeks, and when that time comes, I hope that people are part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
Lesli Bales-Sherrod does marketing and writing for Pellissippi State Community College.