A group of 17 firemen and 2 women stand in front of a firetruck at the Weeping Water fire department.
Two women who made and donated masks, Dixie Norris (right/middle) and Susie Layton-Neumeister (left/middle) presenting their check from Agility Fuel Solutions to the Weeping Water fire department. Photo courtesy of Dixie Norris.

With several thousands of masks already completed and distributed, making face masks has become a part of the routine of seamstresses across Nebraska.

When COVID-19 started in the U.S. in late March, Nebraska residents began making masks for their families and friends. Two of the mask-makers included Ruth Fandry of Brownsville, Minessota, and Dixie Norris of Weeping Water.

“I’d make maybe eight or ten masks a day and take them over and put them on the countertop at the reception desk, and the next day, they’d be all gone,” she said. “And so I did that until everybody pretty much had what they needed.”

Fandry, now working as a real estate agent in Lincoln, began making masks for her family and coworkers in early April when Personal Protective Equipment became harder to obtain for the public.

Requests for Fandry to make masks began to come in from real estate agents outside of her office, asking her to make masks for their offices and families.

“I started charging $5 a mask, and then I decided I would donate it to the Lincoln Food Bank,” she said.

To date, Fandry has made more than 400 masks and donated $1,000 to the Food Bank.

IMG 4495 edited - Nebraska seamstresses donate thousands from facemask sales to businesses in need
Pictured are masks made by Ruth Fandry to be donated in April.
Photo courtesy of Ruth Fandry

Dixie Norris and her neighbors and friends in Weeping Water are making and donating masks, too.

Norris and her friends Susie Layton-Neumeister and Josi Mondragon-Newell started off just like Fandry, making masks for friends and family members. 

Mondragon-Newell’s daughter then called her mother to request that the trio make masks for the Fremont Dialysis Clinic where she works.

Following a pattern that a friend sent them, the group made and donated several dozens of masks for the dialysis center employees. 

IMG 4491 edited - Nebraska seamstresses donate thousands from facemask sales to businesses in need
Dixie Norris, Susie Layton-Neumeister and Josie Mondragon-Newell created and donated masks in the spring of 2020. Photo courtesy of Dixie Norris.

“Somebody sent us a pattern and what theirs looked like, and so we just kind of made our own and did what they did,” Norris said. “We also watched a tutorial on Google.”

Thanks to word of mouth, the requests kept coming in. They started by making 200 facemasks for employees at CHI Health Midlands hospital in Papillion and Bryan Urgent Care in Northwest Lincoln.

More companies such as Brookside Assisted Living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Walnut Grove Retirement Community in Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Dollar General, Meeske Hardware and Meeske Auto Parts Store in Weeping Water also requested masks for their employees.

IMG 4492 - Nebraska seamstresses donate thousands from facemask sales to businesses in need
Dixie Norris (right), Susie Layton-Neumeister (left) and Josie Mondragon-Newell (center) work together on masks. Photo courtesy of Dixie Norris.

“We told everybody, you know, we don’t charge anything,” Norris said. “We donated all of our time and covered expenses.”

After donating 3,500 masks to those in and around their community, Norris, Layton-Neumeister and Mondragon-Newell were asked to make another 500 facemasks for a company called Agility Fuel Solutions in Lincoln.

The company requested masks for its employees and wanted to pay the women for their time and hard work.

Agility Fuel Solutions “said ‘We would like to pay something.’ And I said, ‘Well, how about if you give a donation,’” Norris said. “So we made 500 masks, two per employee, and they wrote us a check for $2,000.”

Screen Shot 2020 10 07 at 8.42.49 AM - Nebraska seamstresses donate thousands from facemask sales to businesses in need
The Weeping Water volunteer fire department was very thankful for the donation from the three women. Photo courtesy of Weeping Water Volunteer Fire Department Facebook Page.

The three women donated the money to the Weeping Water Volunteer Fire Department. 

Norris and her friends have made and donated more than 4,000 face masks to the community since the beginning of April.

Making the large quantity of masks did not come without struggles for Norris’ group or Fandry.

In late March when the public began to make homemade face masks, people had a hard time finding elastic to hold the mask onto the head.

“At that point in time, you couldn’t buy elastic anywhere in Lincoln, which just blew my mind. So I ordered it online hoping that maybe that it would come in quicker that way. Well, even Amazon disappointed me there because it was several weeks before I finally got some,” Fandry said. “Now I have probably a couple years’ supply of elastic.”

“We were even using headbands when we could find them because people were buying anything you could get for elastic,” Norris said.

Through the countless hours of cutting, assembling and sewing, Fandry and Norris know they are helping others.

“I guess if we have to wear them, we might as well make it be, you know, as enjoyable as we can,” Fandry said.

Norris agreed and said that her favorite part of their facemask-making endeavors was knowing they were helping others.

Senior Journalism and ADPR student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.