Morris Mayer’s small upholstery shop, Plaza Park Interiors in Mamaroneck, is usually very busy. The seamstresses especially are used to the hectic nature of the business and the cutting tables are always filled with deadline driven projects for clients.
Mayer, a Scarsdale resident for 10 years, has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. He worked his way up through the business originally working as a drapery installation helper. But when he finally began working for a company that had a fully functioning workroom, that’s when things began to click.
“You got to see what goes on … behind the scenes and all the blood, sweat and tears that goes into making [products],” he said. “That’s what really intrigued me; how it’s made. Getting it from raw material to finished product.”
Now, Mayer and his four seamstresses are using those skills to try to help during the COVID-19 pandemic, by producing cotton masks for area hospitals. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed all nonessential businesses to close last week, which meant shops like Mayer’s were shuttered indefinitely.
“Being that we couldn’t operate making curtains or anything because that’s not … essential, [I thought] ‘We have cotton fabrics, let’s make the masks,’” said Mayer, who was able to keep his shop open because he also runs a cleaning and sanitation service business out of the building, which is considered essential.
After seeing social media posts about the need for surgical masks to protect doctors and nurses on the COVID-19 frontlines, Mayer decided to heed the call for mask production. At first, he was unsure how to go about making a mask and didn’t know if his shop had the right materials to produce masks with proper filtration. But, after getting advice from a medical professional on what the needs of the medical community are, Mayer and his employees stitched up a prototype mask by Tuesday.
“It’s mainly … getting the right materials and sewing it as to where it will be effective,” said Mayer.
Using some excess fabric from other client projects, the 100% cotton masks with a small pocket for inserting filters have a dual use purpose. Not only can the masks be used by medical professionals with the filter, the masks can also be fitted over any one-time use surgical mask to help extend its protective span.
“Those masks that were once one time use [will] now be covered, so the outside won’t be contaminated,” said Mayer. “So instead of them having to throw them out at the end of the day, or changing them frequently” workers will be able to wash and sanitize the cloth masks for reuse.
“It keeps you sane also,” he said. “You know you’re doing a good thing. It keeps you away from the media, it keeps you away from all the negativity and panic and you just know you’re working toward a solution. Mainly to help the people on the frontlines.”
Mayer said he will be producing masks for this area before branching out to meet other needs outside the state. On Wednesday, March 25, he said his upholstery shop plans to donate masks to eight different medical centers and hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
“I want to make them as a donation,” said Mayer. “If it came to the point where our demand exceeded my financial capacity, then I would reach out [for sponsorships].”
Although he has already had multiple people reach out to help, Mayer wanted to see how many masks he could produce and how much fabric he’d have. With social distancing protocols in place in the shop, Mayer can only fit eight people at most in the space. He has plans to reach out to others in the industry if demand gets too overwhelming.
Some residents in Edgemont are also taking up the call to action on the social media site Next Door. One post by Edgemont resident Aparna Rao, who is coordinating residents to start making masks at home in Greenburgh, garnered more than 150 comments, with residents offering their sewing skills, excess fabric and sewing machines.
“We have 20 [plus] known sewers and many others are sewing and donating anonymously,” Rao told the Inquirer. “Many are loaning their sewing machines. Others are donating thread [and] material.”
Rao is now coordinating with Mayer and said there are nine volunteers transporting fabrics between houses and that Mayer is helping to deliver masks to hospitals.
“I’m so happy that everyone is involved,” said Rao. “I’m so surprised [on] the amount of people that are volunteering.”
Rao said that most volunteers are using cotton fabrics that they already have at home and are now sending higher quality and newer materials to Mayer’s shop so his employees can use the material with industrial sewing equipment.
“There’s a lot of shops out there that should take the initiative,” he said. “I’m not sure how much is needed, but I think until we see … that there’s no shortage and they’re not running out of masks, people should just take the time … get their hands on some fabric … [and] start sewing.”