Leisa Heimbecker is not a stranger to sewing machines. The art and craft is a hobby of hers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began across the country in March, she felt just like many others did.
“I felt helpless and scared,” Heimbecker said.
But then she got an idea of how she might be of help to others. It was an idea that has been shared by many during the last several months of the pandemic.
“I thought that there must be more I can do, and one of my hobbies is sewing,” she said. “So I decided to make masks.”
Heimbecker, who is a unit clerk for the assisted living facility of Attic Angel Place in Middleton, wears a mask every day to protect residents and staff from possibly spreading the virus. It was another factor in her deciding to make masks.
“I feel very strongly about protecting the elderly population, as they are at higher risk of complications and death from COVID,” she said.
When making masks, though, she didn’t limit herself to providing them just to the elderly. She was going to make masks for anybody who wanted or needed them, and she wasn’t going to charge anything for them.
“I feel it is important to offer masks to anyone who needs them, and didn’t want money to be a reason to stop someone from asking (for masks),” Heimbecker said. “So, I offered to make them at no charge, but decided that donations would be accepted to help me cover the cost of supplies.”
Since she began making masks several months ago, Heimbecker has made more than 1,400 as of early September — and all have been given out free of charge. She didn’t keep track of her output to start, but kept a notebook handy for the requests she had received as a way to keep track of the names and number of masks wanted so nobody would be forgotten.
“My husband took it (the notebook) one day and started to tally them,” Heimbecker said. “We were amazed when he counted over 300.”
Heimbecker said that her first large request was from a local business who called her. Initially, Heimbecker thought the business wanted 15, but the order was actually for 50. The largest single-order request she has taken on was for 100 masks.
The only donations Heimbecker was asking for were to help with supplies. She said her first post on Facebook while making masks was a “plea” for elastic.
“I asked for people to ‘raid granny’s stash of elastic for those of us that are sewing masks and can’t get it,’” Heimbecker said.
Heimbecker still gets the occasional package delivery to her house that contains elastic. Other packages she receives are full of fabric and other supplies.
Heimbecker used some of the early donations for a new sewing machine, as hers broke near the beginning of the process.
“I was so worried I couldn’t fulfill the requests I had promised,” she said. “So I contacted a friend who sews and she loaned me her machine. I eventually had enough donations to buy myself a new (inexpensive and practical) machine.”
After some time passed with people making monetary donations to her, Heimbecker soon realized that she had more than she needed. She then decided to donate whatever money she didn’t need for supplies to Reach Out Lodi, who had also requested Heimbecker to make masks for them.
“I felt if people really wanted to donate money, and I didn’t need it at the time, it should go to those who do,” she said. “Reach Out Lodi was very appreciative of my donations, the masks I made them, and my request for others to donate to them.”
Reach Out Lodi even made a Facebook post that thanked Heimbecker for all the volunteer work she was doing for the community. The non-profit organization also has its own mask makers. Penny Schmiedlin, along with Thea Jesse and Mary Boisen, have been making masks to supply to school children within the Lodi School District. As of early September, the trio had enough masks for the primary and elementary school children, and are currently working on masks for the middle school children.
At ROL, the trio of ladies meet once a week to sew the masks. They have made 300 masks for the LPS and LES students in two different sizes. They have also made 200 for LMS and LHS students, with another 100 to go. After that, the school will be contacted to see if more are needed, according to Schmiedlin.
Heimbecker has been making masks for whoever needs them. She said that most of the time she gets requests from individuals looking for masks for themselves and family members. She has also made masks for several businesses, a fire station and assisted living facilities.
“It makes me feel good when I hear people are either asking for others or sharing my information,” Heimbecker said.
She averages about 20-40 masks per week nowadays and has been receiving more requests for children’s masks. Early on, she had some help from others, but has continued on by herself.
Heimbecker knows that she’s not alone in her overall efforts either.
“I would like to thank all the mask making warriors out there,” she said. “Early on, I did have help from some others who were making masks as well. Now, I just keep plodding along. If someone needs masks urgently (for travel or other needs), I’ll try to get them done quickly.”
Because she also continues to work full time, Heimbecker said that it takes her about a week — or sometimes a little longer — to fulfill a non-emergency request.
After making more than 1,400 masks — and counting — Heimbecker has no plans of slowing down, as long as there is a continued need for the masks. She will continue to give away her masks at no cost to anyone. She would also like to remind those who feel like donating, to do so toward Reach Out Lodi, to further help all of its ongoing charitable efforts.