RSVP volunteer Donna Mingus sewing a mask

Volunteers from the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Highlands County and South Florida State College (SFSC) developmental mathematics professor, Cheryl John, are currently sewing masks to assist local health care organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. RSVP is sponsored locally by SFSC.

Kris Juve, coordinator of RSVP of Highlands County, saw a Facebook posting by Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell expressing the urgent need for face masks for health care workers. Juve contacted a nurse who works at a Polk County nursing home who said that because of the shortage of equipment, she and coworkers were required to wear the same masks all day long. She had been told that the nursing home would run out of masks within a week.

Juve immediately reached out to RSVP volunteers who are members of sewing groups in Sebring Falls, Tanglewood in Sebring, and Tropical Harbor Estates in Lake Placid.

“They were excited to hear from me,” Juve said. “They’re in their 70s and 80s, and their sewing clubs are closed for the time being. They were more than willing to take on the project of sewing masks for health care workers.”

The nurse at the Polk County nursing home had requested a pleated mask with an opening, so that a filter could be placed in it. She wanted to be able to insert a surgical mask inside the cotton mask. According to Juve, “It’s uncomfortable to wear a disposable surgical mask for 10 – 12 hours. It creates moisture and becomes hot. A nurse reported to me that some of their ‘faces are breaking out.’”

Juve had posted a message through Elwell’s Facebook feed indicating that the RSVP volunteers were working on masks, and she received responses from two nurses who were desperate for cotton masks.

 “I received a call from a nurse in a dialysis center in Sebring,” Juve said. “She even bought fabric and elastic for the volunteers to use.”

According to the descriptions of the nurses who contacted her, the RSVP volunteers created three prototype masks. “The masks we’re making are 100% cotton and considered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as ‘crisis masks.’ They are washable, but they are not hospital grade. They are going to local assisted living and nursing homes,” she said.

RSVP volunteer Jane Koch wearing a mask she sewed

“Having worked in the health care field, I have maintained a passion for the care and well-being of others,” Juve said. “Our RSVP volunteers who are sewing masks shared that they felt helpless just sitting at home, and it’s a perfect way for them to use their skills to support first responders and health care workers with the hopes of keeping them safe and well.”

Those who need a mask, may contact RSVP by completing an online form at Anyone interested in helping RSVP volunteers sew masks or contribute materials for creating the masks are asked to email Supplies that the volunteers need are: 100% cotton fabric, Coats and Clark thread, elastic (1/8”, 1/4” or round cord), twist ties with no paper coating, and elastic hair ties (ponytail holders).

Cheryl John had contacted Juve about sewing masks for health care providers. John was already sewing face masks for her family members before hearing about critical shortages of them across the country. She was sewing masks because her 1-year-old daughter has multiple respiratory issues and needed the masks when going to doctors’ appointments.

John’s mother is a nurse at Lake Placid Health Care Center. When the nurses at the facility learned that John was making masks, they put in a request to have masks made for the facility.

“I have a few different patterns based on what people have asked for,” John said. “Most of my masks are two layers of 100% quilting cotton with elastic. Some people have asked for masks that tie behind their head and neck. I’ve also sewn masks in four layers.”

When searching for styles of masks that are needed, one style of mask John had seen on a Facebook post was the “Deaconess.” The mask was named for Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Ind. “The hospital was requesting masks on Facebook, and the post went viral and it came to my attention. The hospital later urged people to help make masks for health care facilities in their own parts of the country. It listed organizations across the country that needed help—and there was a large listing in Florida.”

John posted on Facebook to ask if local health care workers or first responders needed masks and she received several responses. “Right now, I have requests for over 100 masks on my waitlist because multiple facilities have wanted them for their nurses at their facilities.”

RSVP provides opportunities for adults age 55 and older to actively immerse in Highlands County through volunteer service. Volunteers serve in nonprofit and community agencies, governmental agencies, and health care facilities. Some of the assignments for volunteers may be mentoring and tutoring children and adults, assisting with meal distribution to the homebound, serving as local museum docents, or providing clerical assistance to partnering agencies. For more information about RSVP, call 863-784-7189.