A California woman spent 12 hours straight sewing masks for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic -- and she's not stopping there.
Hilary Cohen has always been at home at her sewing machine. So amid the coronavirus pandemic with mask shortages dominating the headlines, the Los Angeles resident got to work, sewing 100 masks and organizing a virtual 12-hour sew-a-thon to bring sewers together to make as many face coverings as possible.
“In such a dark time, it is so uplifting to see the community come together,” Cohen told “GMA.” “Sewing by nature is very lonely. Now, everything is lonely -- it was really nice to feel connected to people and a community again.”
Cohen's March 30 sew-a-thon was part of the Million Mask Challenge, an initiative launched by Providence Health & Services -- a Washington state based health care system -- to produce protective gear for health care workers.
Cohen has donated 189 masks to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills (100 from her and 89 more from another donor), which will be going to janitors, security guards, and hospital workers who don’t work directly with patients, according to Monica Monroy, a donations coordinator at the hospital.
Monroy, who learned about Cohen’s sew-a-thon after she received her inquiry online, said she was stunned by the idea that a stranger would be willing to donate to the hospital.
“I remember the day I called her,” Monroy told “GMA.” She said that she was gonna have a mask marathon and it was so cute. And she said she’s rallying people to make them with her and I remember telling her that we are so grateful to her -- they’re even more meaningful.”
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised the use of cloth face coverings -- like the ones Cohen has been making -- even for people who aren’t exhibiting symptoms.
“The virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity -- for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing -- even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” according to a statement on the CDC’s website.
And while face masks bought from stores are impossible to find these days, a face covering "can include anything that covers your nose and mouth, including dust masks, scarves and bandanas" to "prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to other people," according to the NYC Health website.
These face coverings are not medical-grade masks such as N95 masks, which officials stressed must be reserved for health care workers.
The handmade fabric masks sewn by Cohen fall into the face covering category, and will be distributed to hospital staff at Cedars-Sinai who aren’t in direct contact with COVID patients.
And now that it’s recommended that everyone wear masks, she said that she won’t say no to anyone who asks for a mask.
“I get orders and requests daily from people I have never met and all over the U.S. and the world,” she said. “I will sew for whoever needs one. So until there is [not] a need, expect to find me at my sewing machine.”
Sewing face masks for grocery store workers
Cohen's sewing spree began last month when she first noticed that employees at her local Ralph's grocery store were not wearing anything to cover their face.
“I’m just so aware of [workers] every time I go to the grocery store,” Cohen told “GMA.” “I feel so bad for them and everyone needs them to keep working.”
While mandates across the country have closed many businesses, grocery stores remain open and workers are still required to work, often at the risk of getting sick.
“When you apply to be a bagger at a grocery store, the stress level is not a high stress level job,” she explained to “GMA.” “Those people are now in this crazy scenario and it’s overwhelming for somebody who agreed to be a grocery store clerk.”
So Cohen, who is an assistant director for the show “NCIS: Los Angeles,” sat down that evening at her sewing machine that she’s had since she was 12. She pulled some scraps of fabric from a bin of material that she’s collected over the years, and got to work on a mask pattern provided by Jo-ann craft store.
Just from her craft bin alone, she was able to sew 106 masks, and she donated them all to local grocery store workers.
She posted photos of the masks on her Instagram, hoping to inspire others to sew, and she received an overwhelming response from people who cheered her on and wanted to help too.
On March 30, Cohen held her 12-hour sew-a-thon, which began at 7 a.m. She shared the event on Facebook and went live there and on Instagram, where she walked through the mask-sewing process.
In total, 50 sewers from more than 30 states and four countries participated, and at the end of the day they shared photos of the masks they were able to produce.
For those that want to help make masks, Cohen encourages people to reach out to hospitals or people in their community that would like masks. She also is welcoming toward others who want to reach out to her personally on Facebook so she can help direct them to where they can donate.
Cohen said she also is planning for a larger 12-hour sew-a-thon on Saturday, April 11, and she is trying to get 500 sewers from across the country to participate. More information can be found on her website, Call to Crafting.
“There are thousands all over the U.S. and world sewing at a time where we are being forced to distance ourselves,” Cohen said. “My hope is to bring the community together -- offer them a space to share ideas and thoughts, provide them with a virtual sewing-mate and some entertainment.”
For more information on how to create masks, click here.