Volunteers make 2,500 face masks

Megan Gilley, a Big Stone Gap residents who works in the mental health field in Norton, has crafted roughly 1,500 face masks while on furlough during the COVID-19 emergency. SUBMITTED PHOTO Megan Gilley, a Big Stone Gap residents who works in the mental health field in Norton, has crafted roughly 1,500 face masks while on furlough during the COVID-19 emergency. SUBMITTED PHOTO

With Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent decision to make face coverings mandatory in a public setting, two local good Samaritans are donating their time and resources to make sure all folks can comply.

Big Stone Gap resident Megan Gilley and Haysi resident Barbara Wilbur began making masks for different reasons.

Gilley provides clinical mental health services in Norton. Her concern with the health of the masses runs deep as the parent of a child with “complex medical needs,” she says.

“To me, this was an issue of public health,” Gilley said. “The community my children live in . . . was in danger. We needed to flatten the curve and work on keeping our community safe and healthy. I had to help in some way.”

Among the places Gilley has sent masks is to Dr. Todd Pillion, a dentist who is also a Virginia state senator. Pillion has distributed them to patients.

Wilbur is from Richmond, but her family’s roots are in Southwest Virginia. Seven years ago, she and her husband “stepped out in faith” and moved to Haysi to teach the Bible. The first winter she was here, she got snowed in. In boredom, Wilbur taught herself to quilt by watching YouTube videos.

As far as donating the masks, Wilbur said, “It is just the right thing to do.”

It became a community effort as people started leaving money or fabric in her mailbox. Johnson Chevrolet in Clintwood became a drop-off point for folks on the opposite side of Dickenson County.

Local residents have also pitched in to assist Gilley, who refuses to accept any form of personal reimbursement.

“Many people have sent me money, supplies and the like as a thanks for making masks,” she said. “All of it has gone right back into making more masks to donate.”

At last count, Wilbur was nearing 1,000 total masks made; Gilley has made approximately 1,500 masks. Both ladies sew most days and spend anywhere from four to 12 hours, depending on demand for the masks.

Wilbur has a little bit of help as granddaughters, six-year-old Emma and four-year-old Stella, chip in their time and effort.

“Stella and Emma helped so much by picking fabric and trying on the kids’ masks,” Wilbur said. “They both even did some sewing.”

A sufficient number of masks assisted Wilbur in being able to send some to New York to assist folks on the front line.

When in Richmond, Wilbur was involved in a single mom’s ministry. The head of that ministry told her of people in need in the Big Apple.

“She said masks were nonexistent or really expensive there,” Wilbur said. “She said they were scared. The masks were distributed to many older people in their building.”

Wilbur also sent masks to a mental health facility in Ohio, as well as Detroit, Pennsylvania and the Outer Banks of North Carolina as she was amazed at the shortage.

Gilley describes her free mask making as a “labor of love” and she has happy to donate her time while on furlough as a way to “love thy neighbor while maintaining social distance and staying home.

“Everyone needs them but everyone doesn’t have extra money to buy them and ensure their families have them to wear in public,” Gilley said. “Even if they do have the funds available, I still considered it to be more of a community service.”

Gilley has also received assistance from the Appalachian Artisan in Big Stone Gap when she could not get elastic due to shortages.

If anyone wants to assist her efforts, Gilley said, they can contact her through her Facebook page.

Wilbur understands that masks don’t fix everything, but wants to assist others in taking safety precautions. She also has obtained a variety of fabric and keeps the person in mind in order to pick a design that will fit their personality.

Wilbur also cites her faith as a driving force behind her charity.

“There is something about helping someone else that really gives the giver hope,” Wilbur said. “We must all do what we can to help and I just want to be the hands and feet of Jesus when I can.”