Fighting virus with needles and thread

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Fighting virus with needles and thread

By Catharin Shepard • 

Staff writer •


In the last few weeks, Anita Herrada-Johnson has produced from her backyard studio more than 200 fabric face masks for doctors and nurses across the country.

The retired United States Air Force MSgt., who has lived in Hoke County with her family since 2006, has for several years operated her own nonprofit: Paying It Forward Beading, which makes fabric items like walker bags and I.D. covers for people who are chronically ill. She had the material and the sewing experience make the fabric face masks for medical staff facing personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.

“When all this started coming around – and it feels like forever but it’s really been about two weeks – I saw a post online asking for sewn fabric masks,” Johnson said.

At first she wasn’t sure if she should jump in. There’s some uncertainty over how effective the fabric masks are, especially compared to the medical-grade masks doctors usually use, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that any type of barrier – even a scarf or bandana – was better than nothing.

Then she got word that her usual donations of fabric goods wouldn’t be accepted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Johnson heard from a high school friend who reached out to her all the way from Texas.

“She said look, can you make these? My nurse friends are having to reuse their masks,” Johnson said.

Then her sister-in-law, a nurse in another state, was on the phone.

“She said we really need these, they will extend the life of our masks,” Johnson said.

She took it as a sign from God and fired up her sewing machine. That was on March 21. Since then, she’s been able to make about 18 to 20 of the fabric masks each day, and has sent them to medical providers across the country.

Her 18-year-old son, who works at Dollar General in Raeford, even asked her to make one of the masks for him. A lot of elderly people shop at the store, and he didn’t want them to feel frightened if he cleared his throat. He started wearing the mask to work every day.

One day, a nurse from Wagram shopping in the store caught sight of his mask and asked where he got it.

“She said I need to talk to your mom, I need about 100 of those,” Johnson said.

She’s still working on that request, along with a request for 60 or 70 of the masks for a food distribution nonprofit in another state.

If people are interested in learning to make the masks to donate, Johnson said she learned the pattern from a video put out on social media by a hospital in Evansville, Indiana. The video was shared in a sewing group on Facebook, along with the sewing pattern for the masks. She already had the fabric and even the elastic cord to make them on hand from prior projects, Johnson said.

“Give it a try. I was hesitant not because I didn’t think I could do it, but there’s so much controversy on whether or not the masks work, but even the CDC guidelines put out that something is better than nothing,” she said. “It’s a barrier, and even if it’s not as great as an N95 or the surgical masks, it’s something. Even just for neighbor or parents, do it for somebody. If you have the talent or the skill to do it, why not?”

Learn more about Johnson’s nonprofit at her website,, or Facebook

Others in the community are also turning their skills with a needle and thread into a way of doing something to help others through the coronavirus pandemic, and finding more ways to support the local community in a time of need.


• Helping with meals first

Nikki Cunningham Quick and her mother, Patricia Cunningham McRae, began giving away meals to people facing a struggle during the recent hurricanes that struck Hoke County in the last several years.

“I have been doing free yard sales and giving away food, when the storm came I opened up my house and cooked for people,” Quick said.

McRae started making the fabric face masks to help during the pandemic, and the family also opened up their kitchen to start cooking food for others. They fed more than 700 people last week in the Raeford community where they live, Quick said.

“It’s a lot, we get up early and sometimes it’s late at night when we get everything cleaned up, and start cutting up food for the next day,” she said.

The family has been paying for the food themselves, offering breakfast and lunch. They’re planning to continue offering meals for about another month, Quick said.

“I have a love for people and my motto always is if I can’t help you, then I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “I want to be that helping hand to pull somebody up.”


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