Jacquie Bygott-Perle, one of The Lady Masketeers, is among a handful of volunteers sewing fabric face masks during the coronavirus.  Courtesy photo
Jacquie Bygott-Perle, one of The Lady Masketeers, is among a handful of volunteers sewing fabric face masks during the coronavirus. Courtesy photo
" What’s wonderful is a lot of us didn’t know each other before this. Now we’ve made friendships that I think will last a long, long time. " Cindy Schlatterer
The sewers who call themselves The Lady Masketeers sent out 218 homemade fabric face masks the weekend of May 16-17 to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

That brings their overall total of donated masks to 2,605.

“It’s a labor of love, that’s for sure,” says Cindy Schlatterer of Pine Beach, who started the group of Ocean County seamstresses weeks ago after putting a call out on social media sites.

Since that time, The Lady Masketeers have been sewing day and night, with fabric masks going to organizations such as Covenant House in Asbury Park and Atlantic City; St. Joseph Parish, Toms River; Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation; the affordable housing nonprofit Homes for All, Toms River, and the childhood cancer awareness nonprofit Oceans of Love, also in Toms River, among others.

“Organizations like these, I just love,” said Schlatterer, a lifelong Catholic. “They are always helping so many people. We just wanted to do as much as we can.”

Schlatterer started sewing fabric masks for those in her community when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States. She was spending 12 hours a day washing, drying, ironing, cutting and sewing the fabric, often leaving masks in a basket on her front porch for neighbors and others in need.

“After I’d sown a little over 200 masks, I thought, ‘I need help.’ I didn’t want to turn anybody away,” she said.

That’s when she posted on social media that she needed some helping hands – as well as fabric and elastic. People and organizations started donating fabric and funds, though elastic is now in short supply due to demand.

“I didn’t expect that. I know a lot of people are out of work,” said Schlatterer, adding that she is grateful for the donations since the women also use their own money for the masks.

Currently, nearly a dozen women from nearby towns sew the masks. With coordination through Schlatterer, others who want to help do so by dropping off supplies to each seamstress, picking up the completed masks or delivering them to individuals and organizations.

“It’s  just grown, and it’s been wonderful,” Schlatterer said of the campaign. “The notes of thanks have been unbelievable.”

Jacquie Bygott-Perle of Beachwood, one of The Lady Masketeers, said it has been challenging to see so many become ill and succumb to the coronavirus.

“I know a lot of people are feeling helpless against this virus, and sewing these masks just makes me feel good,” she said. “I’m helpless to do so many things, but masks I can do!”

“I think joining with The Lady Masketeers has brought back a connection to others that has been lacking during this time of quarantine, in our social distancing, in our isolation. I’m connected to this awesome group of ladies, and in a sense, to every single person out there wearing one of the masks we’ve made,” she said.

“We’ve used a lot of very identifiable fabrics, and I look forward to seeing some of our masks on the faces of those in our community. Although to them, I’ll be just another masked stranger, I will know that we helped that person in a small way, and that’s enough for me,” Bygott-Perle added.

Schlatterer said she is thankful for all the women who have volunteered to help sew. “What’s wonderful is a lot of us didn’t know each other before this. Now we’ve made friendships that I think will last a long, long time.”