Thread of love runs through each mask sewn for Binghampton neighbors

By , Daily Memphian Published: August 24, 2020 4:00 AM CT

A Carpenter Art Garden volunteer’s journey in search of a sewing machine turned into one full of memories and a special reminder of who taught her how to sew.

The search for a sewing machine began after Jane Pate decided to create masks for Binghampton residents in the fight against COVID-19.

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“I put out a call on Nextdoor asking if anyone had a sewing machine they would be willing to sell me or loan me,” said Pate, a volunteer tutor at the Art Garden for three years. “And my neighbor two doors down, contacted me and said, ‘I have a very old sewing machine that I will give you.’”

Pate received a 1959 Singer sewing machine — the same kind her late mother taught her to sew on when Pate was younger. The machine Pate’s mother used had was a newlywed gift from Pate’s dad to her mom, who died four years ago.

“I’ve gone down memory lane thinking of my mother and knowing that she would be pleased that I’m using the skills that she taught me to help someone else,” Pate said.

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Over the past four months, the Binghampton-based nonprofit, located on Carpenter Street, has distributed over 1,000 free masks for both adults and children.

The Art Garden, founded in 2012, was formed to work with Binghampton youths to increase their exposure to art, educational and vocational programming.

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The nonprofit has a sewing station where volunteers —including Pate — spend time each week creating the masks. Pate’s sewn close to 100 of those masks during the pandemic and delivers about 10 each week to the Art Garden.

Beyond the sewing machine, Pate’s family is involved in each mask that is crafted. Her daughter, who lives in California, buys and sends Pate the fabric selected by her 2-year-old grandson. The designs range from dinosaurs to fire trucks.

“If you look for the opportunities, they’ll be there,” Pate said. “I’ve been rewarded many times. Who would’ve have imagined that my offering to make masks would take me on this extraordinary journey?”

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The importance of masks has grown during the pandemic. At first, the Shelby County Health Department only “strongly recommended” mask usage.

As of July, the health department mandated wearing masks in public spaces throughout Shelby County due to a spike in COVID-19 cases this summer.

Megan Banaszek, Art Garden executive director, said the organization realized the serious need for masks when staff members routinely saw people in the neighborhood not wearing them.

“To my knowledge, this is the only spot where you can just walk up in the neighborhood and grab a mask,” said Banaszek, who began her new role in May. “Now, you need them to go anywhere, but I think that was really important that we had them up here.”

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A mask — along with hand-washing and social distancing — is one of the few ways public health experts believe the pandemic can be slowed, at least until a vaccine is available for wide distribution or herd immunity is achieved.

Masks are one of several items Art Garden members distribute at pop-up market shops held weekly on Mondays and Thursdays. Other items available at the market include produce and hand sanitizer.

Now, Banaszek said they notice the increased mask usage in Binghampton. The nonprofit also received several bulk mask donations in addition to the ones sewn each week.

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While the Art Garden has made significant strides with masks, there is a greater need for youth-sized ones, said Banaszek.

“A lot of these masks are hanging off their face, and they can’t keep them on,” she said. “Anytime we have little masks for little kids, they go really quick because that’s all that fits them.”

Pate is helping with that by sewing one mask at a time. Each one — and the process behind that — reminding her of so much more.

“Every mask I make, it’s making me happy,” Pate said. “And I’m sure that Mother would be pleased. I’m hoping it might save someone’s life.”

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Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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