Dolese Team Masks the Masses

As the Coronavirus Began to Sweep Through the U.S., Dolese Workers Protected Friends, Family and the Community One Stitch at a Time.

As the nation faced its biggest health crisis in a century, aggregates producers once again showcased why they are good neighbors. From donations of N95 masks to blood drives, many sought ways to help. At Dolese Bros. Co., a group from its accounting office dedicates time before and after work, as well as during breaks, to sew face masks for family, friends, and community members.

The idea started as a conversation between two employees, Julie Tucker and Donna Smith. “We kind of felt a loss of control, like many Americans are feeling,” said Tucker, an accounts payable clerk, who notes they watched with concern as the virus spread through Italy and made its way toward the United States.

“We just watched New York getting hit so hard, and it started spiraling,” Tucker said. “We knew it was coming to us and wondered what we could do to protect our family.” Smith found a pattern and offered to teach Tucker to use a sewing machine that had long sat in her closet. At first, the two made as many as they could for Dolese employees and their families, but the effort quickly spread to neighbors, retail workers, and health care workers.

“Wherever we went, if we had an extra one on us, we were handing them out,” she explains. “We figured if we could mask the masses, we were protecting ourselves. It just kind of spiraled.”

Working With What’s Available

As the CDC changed its guidance on the use of face masks and demand became more widespread, materials grew harder to find. “You could walk into a Walmart fabric aisle last week and you had your pick,” Tucker said. “This week, it’s red or red. It’s getting pretty difficult.”

The group turned to donations and adapted patterns to use materials available. For example, as elastic is difficult to get, it is testing patterns using flat shoe laces, bias tape, and hair bands. Fusible interfacing, used in many designs, is the most challenging component to find. To get it, Tucker has traveled to various stores in the area and searched for online options with timely delivery.

As an incentive to donate material, the group is making masks for those who donate. Tucker said she picked up more than 20 yards of fabric over the weekend. In return, she is making six masks for the family who provided it. To adhere to social distancing guidance, donations are left on her doorstep or she drives around picking up materials off people’s porches. “We’re using whatever resource we can find,” she said.

Pulling Together as a Team

At press time, Tucker said the team is trying to make at least 200 masks. Nearly everyone working in the accounting department at Dolese is involved. Some are sewing while others are cutting and pinning fabric or measuring and cutting elastic, depending on their skill level. “The majority of us have had our hands on it at some point,” she explains.

At this point, Tucker has sewn so many masks that she is on her second sewing machine. “I burned up that sewing machine that set on the shelf for 15 years and had to go buy another one,” she said. “I’m just zipping them through the machine as fast as I can.”

People who want to help with similar efforts should join a team that’s already established and do whatever task they can – from cutting fabric to driving around to pick up donations. “At this point, I feel like there’s no task that is too menial,” she said.

Demonstrating a Culture of Giving

While the face mask project began as a low-key project during break times, Tucker said it’s not surprising that it has Dolese’s support. “It’s the culture of Dolese to give what you have,” she said, pointing to its participation in lymphoma fundraisers, blood drives, the regional food bank, and the Memorial Marathon.

The group plans to continue to make face masks as long as it can. “I believe it’s going to become a culture for us; probably through the end of the year,” she said. “It’s becoming the norm.”

Therese Dunphy has covered the aggregates industry for nearly 30 years, while also serving multiple roles as a public official. As the owner of Stone Age Communications, she provides communications consulting services to help aggregate producers build stronger relationships within the communities they serve. She can be reached at [email protected]

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