“I need to make masks. Mayme can help me,” said Elizabeth, age 12.

“Masks for us?” I asked (with a confused look on my face). “We’re in the middle of the remote prairie, isolated as a family on a farm. Who would the masks be for?”

Elizabeth went on to explain the need for non-medical masks — something she had read about — and shared the sewing patterns she had already researched.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my daughter reminded me of an important lesson: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Elizabeth Pinke mailed the first 10 completed masks she sewed with her grandma's help to Forum Communications.  (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Elizabeth Pinke mailed the first 10 completed masks she sewed with her grandma's help to Forum Communications. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Our son, Hunter, along with my husband, my parents and I had just returned from Hunter’s outpatient spinal cord rehabilitation therapy. His stay in Colorado was cut short due to COVID-19. While Elizabeth was thinking of how she could help others, I felt like a wrung out rag. As I had just shared on a walk with my husband, I felt our entire family needed the 14-day self-quarantine to rest and recover.

It’s often easiest to look inward and focus on ourselves during tragedy, trauma or dramatic life changes. What pushed me through the dark days, when I felt lost and isolated yet had to find a way to keep going after our son’s accident this winter, was a widespread community. Both online and offline, family, friends and mostly strangers rallied around us to support our son and family.

Elizabeth’s desire to make masks reminded me to rise up, rather than self-absorb, and continue to find ways to be a helping hand, even from a remote farm location. If you’re healthy, no matter your age or location, you can be a helper.

Each sewn mask has a pocket, with a cut-up furnace filter to add protection.  (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Each sewn mask has a pocket, with a cut-up furnace filter to add protection. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
This past Saturday night, Elizabeth and my mom got to work in the basement of my parent’s farmhouse where we are all staying as a family. They used a pattern that included a pocket to slip in a small piece cut from a new furnace filter. Elizabeth chose a farm-themed fabric to make the connection to our rural roots.

After the first 10 masks were complete, Elizabeth packaged them up and sent them to my employer, Forum Communications. The human resource director shared with me that Elizabeth’s homemade masks would be helpful to essential staff. Next, Elizabeth is making a few masks for her doctor auntie to wear over her N95 medical mask.

While making the masks, we learned our local nursing home needs medical staff isolation gowns with long-sleeves and cuffs. While I never learned to sew more than a button on a shirt and complete a few home economics class projects, I set to work finding a pattern that could be useful for the sewing duo in our basement. I sent it to the nursing home to verify the pattern would work. My mom and Elizabeth have added isolation gowns to their sewing list.

The masks made by Elizabeth Pinke and her grandmother feature farm-inspired fabric. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
The masks made by Elizabeth Pinke and her grandmother feature farm-inspired fabric. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
While it’s easy to be consumed with worry and fear, we can’t control much of what is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. What can you and I control? We can control how we respond. Elizabeth and my mom have turned to sewing as a response.

Be a helper — which might look different for each of us. For a vast majority, being a helper means staying home. Even at home, you can use your gifts to help others. For some, it means going to work because your role is essential.

On the other side of COVID-19, I believe our country — and our world — will be stronger, healthier and rooted in thinking of one another more than ourselves.

Theodore Roosevelt is quoted to have said it first: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. We all can repeat it daily and be more helpful.