Heather Lindstrom is a single mother who has worked full time as a bus driver for Harrisonburg City Public Schools for three years to support her family. When COVID-19 brought schools to a close, Lindstrom did not want to ask for government aid and instead turned to the internet and a lifelong hobby as a buoy to keep her afloat.
Since March, she has made over 400 masks for friends and strangers near and far, selling each one for $7 over Facebook. Due to increased shares on social media and a rise in sales, Lindstrom said sharing her story and working through the hard times has garnered media attention and she has made enough to pay May’s rent and is currently earning toward June’s bills.
“I need help with my rent. Instead of asking right out for it, I’m selling masks to help compensate the difference. I’ve gotten a lot of business that way,” Lindstrom said.
Sewing and knitting crafts have been a family trade for generations, but Lindstrom said the idea to turn her talents of clothes mending and quiltmaking into a marketing tool took root in March while providing friends with necessary personal protective equipment.
“A couple of my co-workers worked for one of the rescue squads, and they were commenting on how short their PPE was, so I started making them,” she said. “Then when they closed the schools — because I’m one of the city school bus drivers — my income was significantly reduced, so I decided to help supplement my income by selling them. It was something I knew I could do.”
Lindstrom shared posts asking for orders on various Facebook pages, such as SAW Sews, a group dedicated to connecting sewers with people asking for donations, and to Harrisonburg VA services in times of need, which encourages individuals to post needs and services due to the pandemic shutdown.
Keezletown resident Cindy Lemmons plans to order a dozen of the homemade masks. She said reading Lindstrom’s post on Facebook filled her with admiration for her perseverance and self-sustainability.
“The fact that she was trying to support herself instead of waiting for assistance made me want to place a large order. Work ethic is so lacking today,” Lemmons said. “Beautiful to see someone try to rise above their situation honorably.”
Masks are available in four sizes: male adult, female adult, kids for ages 7-12 and toddler for ages 2-6. Each one is made of four parts with a filter pocket, nose wire and double layer of fabric. The process behind each mask-making operation consists of tracing materials by Lindstrom and detail work by her sidekick, Aurora, her 14-year-old daughter.
“She does all the clipping for me, she cuts the elastic for me, she helps me with the wire for the nose pieces. So, she has done a lot to help me, so I can keep up sometimes with the spike in the demand,” Lindstrom said.
While her daughter is out of school and herself out of work, Lindstrom said focusing on the project has provided substantial emotional relief in addition to financial support.
“I’m a single parent and it’s like, driving the school bus, I’m not picking up any extra hours with field trips or transit, and that’s a lot of what I depended on to make sure my bills were covered. It was tight but then once all those extra hours were gone, it’s just like this stress of how am I going to make ends meet? How am I going to take care of my daughter? So, it’s definitely helped alleviate the stress,” Lindstrom said.
The cloth used to make each mask has either been purchased at local fabric supply shops like Patchwork Plus in Dayton or Ragtime Fabrics in Harrisonburg, as well as donations from fellow crafters.
Fellow mask-maker Megan Diveley has made and donated facial protective gear to her friends and family since April and said she offered to donate quilting cotton when she saw Lindstrom’s post because she wants to alleviate the suffering of others during the pandemic.
“Feeling heartsick over how many lives this is destroying in the U.S., even if one does not contract the virus. … I want to do what little I am able to help,” Diveley said.
Last month, Lindstrom donated over 70 masks to the community. Lindstrom said most orders are placed locally by neighbors and area business owners for their staff, as well as by Mayor Deanna Reed, who has collected hundreds of masks for her “Mask Up Harrisonburg Initiative.”
“I feel so grateful that I’m able to provide a service that is truly needed in our community,” Lindstrom said. “As long as there’s a need for it, I enjoy sewing and if I can sew to help the community and everything, I plan to continue sewing as long as possible.”