COVID-19: Volunteers in Action

Our volunteers are relentless in their willingness to help others. Even during a pandemic due to COVID-19, our volunteers are finding creative and resourceful ways to provide support in their local communities. Here you’ll find some of the ways our volunteers continue to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus.

In the spirit of MDS, many volunteers, locally and nationwide, are working to make and distribute masks during this time of need. If making masks to donate to healthcare workers, please ALWAYS check with your local health authorities to determine the need and the required materials. This pattern may be used to make your own mask.

If you’re in the Lancaster, PA area and interested in learning more about mask making or the availability of masks, please contact the call center at 717-823-0952. 

Mask Making Instructions  

“Give me a task! What’s this about masks?”

On her 87th birthday, Betty Brunk, a resident of Harrisonburg, Virginia, penned a poem that colorfully tells the story of how MDS volunteers just won’t stop (safely) serving, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her poem, entitled “GIVE ME A TASK!” Brunk wrote (in part):

Give me a task!
Please give me a task!
Is this too much to ask?
That you give me a task?

What’s this about masks?
Somebody needs masks?
That sounds like a task
that I could do.

Brunk is among dozens of volunteers in Harrisonburg that helped deliver 500 masks to first responders, including rescue squads, firefighters and police officers. And they did it all while safely social distancing.

After the fire department provided clear instructions for the kind of mask needed to meet safety requirements, Phil Helmuth, MDS volunteer development coordinator, set the wheel (or, in this case, the scissors and sewing machines!) in motion for a response. He telephoned Rich Rhodes, chair of the Shenandoah Valley MDS Unit.

Together, they called a fabric store in Dayton, Virginia, “Dressed Up Threads,” where owner Faith Smith agreed to donate fabric and elastic. She also recruited eight volunteers to cut all the material to size, then package it for individual volunteers who had agreed to do the sewing.

Working through the MDS unit family, within several hours, Helmuth and Rhodes had enough sewers to make nearly 600 masks. But the need was growing as well: now first responders needed a thousand!

And the work goes on. So far volunteers are from the Old Orders, Dayton Mennonite Church, Park View Mennonite Church, Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, Zion Mennonite, Lindale Mennonite and from other circles within MDS.

Stay turned for this unfolding story, to be posted later this week! #MDSproud #MDS(Safely)Responds

Susan Kim 

MDS Lancaster Unit churns out 21,000 masks every 72 hours

With signature Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) ingenuity, the MDS Lancaster Unit is coordinating a network of local volunteers creating an average of 21,000 masks every three days.

The effort—which has quickly evolved over the past week—all takes place while safely practicing social distancing. According to unit board member Manny Flaud, it has become a finely-tuned network of phone answers, fabric cutters, seamstresses, drivers, and distributors.

First, the unit set up a “command center” where six volunteers answer a phone hotline. They all work in separate rooms in a cabinet shop that was forced to close because of COVID-19.

Next, the unit connected with the owner of another store forced to close—a local fabric seller—which was quickly becoming overwhelmed by calls and inquiries for fabric to make masks, most of them for first responders such as nurses.

Now 20 volunteer fabric cutters are measuring fabric and creating “kits” with the pieces, then handing them off to volunteer seamstresses—all from a safe distance. One kit contains materials to make 50 masks.

Volunteer drivers then pick up completed masks and take them to a distribution center, from which the finished masks are delivered to nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, prisons and individual families.

Based on the number of kits the unit distributed as of April 6, volunteers will have made 21,000 masks by April 9,  said Flaud. 

“I think it’s a good example of what a unit should be doing for the local community,” said Flaud, who has also been serving as a mentor for other MDS units to help them get their own mask-making operations started.

For MDS Executive Director Kevin King, it adds up to a way for the Lancaster Unit “to harness the compassion and energy of local volunteers, who are now helping to meet the demand in their own community.” 

Susan Kim 

If you’re interested in learning more about mask making or the availability of masks, please contact the call center at 717-823-0952.

If you know of local MDS volunteers who are making a difference in your community, please share with us. Complete the form and let us know about your local pandemic response and be sure to include partner organizations. We want to hear from you.

Submit stories about what MDS volunteers are doing to help others through this time.