Altoona staff member puts sewing skills to use during pandemic

Joy Frank at her sewing machine

Joy Frank at her sewing machine.

Credit: Joy Frank

ALTOONA, Pa. — “SewJoyful" Joy Frank has joined the ranks of those willing and able to sew cloth masks during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Frank has been a Division of Undergraduate Studies adviser at Penn State Altoona for 20 years. Although she always wanted to learn to sew because of her grandmother who made beautiful quilts, Frank said she felt she never had the time and would learn when she retired. But feeling inspired one day a few years ago, she decided there was no point in waiting and signed up for a class at the Sewing Box Quilt Shop in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Now, she loves to make quilts, table runners and handbags. 

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Frank said, she wanted to sew cloth masks for family and friends who are essential workers. Her daughter-in-law is a nurse practitioner in State College, and the husband of her childhood best friend also needed them for his work at a grocery store in Harrisburg. Then, seeing the growing need in the community for these masks, Frank decided to continue making them. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing masks in public settings, like the grocery store, the pharmacy and public transportation, to help slow the spread of the virus and help keep those who may be asymptomatic from transmitting it to others. In addition, using cloth masks helps reserve medical-grade masks for healthcare works, medical first-responders, and others in critical need of them.  

Following CDC and World Health Organization guidelines, Frank said she is lovingly sewing the fitted masks out of her stockpile of fabric. Once she adds nonwoven filter material to the inside of the lining pockets, she will be able to distribute more than 100 masks that she’s already made.

“I will continue to make them until there isn’t a need anymore,” Frank stated. “I’m giving them to anyone who reaches out to me that they are in need. It’s a big job for one lady, though. All of my free time has been spent sewing, so if I had my wish, I’d have access to plenty of the raw materials, space, and man- or lady- power to produce enough for all of Blair County.”

Frank says she phoned her mother after she started the project and said she would make one for her, as well. The next day her mother sent a photo of a mask she’d made on her own. “She found an old shoulder pad that she removed from a top she had probably in the 80s when they were in style. I said, ‘are you kidding me’! She answered back, ‘when you’re retired, on house arrest, and have a whole lot of time on your hands, you see an old shoulder pad laying around, and you turn it into a mask!’” 

When Frank asked if she planned to wear it, her mother replied with a hardy, “Heck no! I just made it to kill time.” But a few days later, her mother called and said she wore it on a trip to Aldi and didn’t think anyone took notice it was an old shoulder pad. “Oh, how we laughed,” says Frank. “And during this time of sheltering in place laughs are so needed.”

Although she never pictured herself using her sewing skills for this purpose during a world-wide pandemic, Frank is pleased to be able to help her friends, her family, and strangers alike.

“It’s pretty simple. I love to sew, I have a lot of fabric, and I love my friends and family immensely," said Frank. "When they need something, when the community needs something, I’ll do anything I can for them. We are all in this together.” 

During this current challenging time across the globe, Penn State Altoona's spirit of “We Are” is more important than perhaps ever before.  

As a Penn State family and community, we want to hear stories of how you or other Penn Staters are going above and beyond to demonstrate the “We Are” spirit by supporting our communities and each other. 

Every act of collaboration, thoughtfulness, and kindness matters. Share them with us by emailing [email protected].