Community Volunteers Help Medical Workers

Healthcare workers at White Plains Hospital wear masks made by Rye Mask Project volunteers.  

The coronavirus pandemic has posed serious challenges to healthcare workers across the United States. Starting in early March, cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, were detected at an alarming rate. 

Hospitals, medical clinics, and nursing homes needed a tremendous amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel safe from the disease. The federal government was slow to respond to the overwhelming need for masks, gloves, and other supplies. 

This left many healthcare workers vulnerable to COVID-19, which is highly contagious. Communities around the country, including in New York’s Westchester County, pitched in to help. 

I recently spoke with Cliona Cronin, who lives in Rye, a suburb of New York City. She is the school nurse at Fox Meadow Elementary in Scarsdale, which is also in Westchester County. The area was hit hard early in the pandemic.

Cronin and a friend organized volunteers in their area to make masks that could serve as a cover for N95s, respirators that protect against airborne particles. Cronin explained that the fabric covers enabled medical personnel to wear N95s for longer periods of time without compromising their safety.


A Westchester County volunteer and her daughter make masks for local healthcare workers. 


Cronin was inspired to start the Rye Mask Project after hearing about an emergency room physician at a local hospital who was searching desperately for something that would make N95s last longer. About 200 volunteers, including Fox Meadow students, joined in the effort. The volunteers, who range in age from 7 to 93, sewed masks from fabric, sheets, and any material they could find.

“Everyone was so upset at the idea that those on the frontlines didn’t have the equipment they needed,” Cronin said. “This motivated everyone to act.” 


Iran Sadr (left) and her husband, Ali, make masks for healthcare workers with their daughter-in-law, Debbie. 


To understand a volunteer’s perspective, I had a virtual conversation with Ali and Iran Sadr of Rye. The couple had been cutting fabric for masks all day long, using a template they created from scratch. 

“I’m very happy and grateful to be helping out and doing something for the nurses and doctors,” said Ali Sadr, who is 93. 

After the hospital’s supplies were replenished, the community focused their efforts on homeless shelters and food banks. By selling the rest of their masks, they managed to raise $15,000, which was donated to Feeding Westchester. Because so many people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, the food bank has seen a huge increase in hunger. 

“Coming together with a common goal at a time of crisis taught us all the lesson that in giving, we receive,” Cronin said. “Everyone felt so good to be helping in such a tangible way.” 



Photos courtesy of the author