Amid pandemic concerns, Simpsonville UMC seamstresses step up

April 08, 2020
By Alan Wild

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the demand for homemade masks suddenly exploded, the seamstresses at Simpsonville UMC sprang into action.

The group, called Hartz to Hearts Quilters, is made up of about seven women, and has helped with a number of projects in recent years, including supplying quilts to the United Methodist children’s Homes and dresses for orphanages. Now the group is making and donating cloth masks.

“Anything and everything that people would need stitched, we can do. These ladies are amazing,” said Wilda Woodyard, 72, who informally oversees the group of seamstresses, which includes Rev. Debora Kelly, the church’s pastor since 2015. 

When they realized the severity of the pandemic, “immediately we thought we’d better get busy,” Woodyard said in a phone interview Tuesday, April 7. (In recent days, federal and state authorities have increasingly been recommending that people wear masks in public to help reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19.)

As of early April, Hartz to Hearts had created more than 300 of the brightly colored masks – including 100 for the medical profession and 100 for the UM Children’s Homes, with campuses in Nicholasville and Owensboro. Woodyard said they also just filled an order for 45 for a company that ships medical products that didn’t want to dip into the professional medical masks that are in such short supply right now.

Another 200 were being worked on and 300 were being cut, she said.

In normal times, the ladies would meet on select Fridays and sew and socialize for the balance of the day, drawing people from as far away as Henry County to their “sew-a-thon.” The group’s oldest member is 91-year-old Barbara McReynolds, and “we can’t keep up with her,” Woodyard said.

Social distancing has created a challenge, particularly with the demand for masks just ramping up. So Woodyard worked with the team to develop a system to get the work done in a safe manner.

They have set up boxes on the porch of the church parsonage with mask kits and instructions on how to assemble them. After they finish the assembly, they bring them back to the parsonage and put them in a box set aside for completed masks. No direct person-to-person contact is involved. The masks are packed 10 to a bag and are washed between the cutting and stitching process.

They already had a stash of quilting fabric, which was donated by people in the community over the years. They’ve been dipping into that stash and haven’t run out yet, though they did need to order flannel and elastic – both of which were paid for by people in the Simpsonville area. “It is a very giving community that we live in. We couldn’t do it without their help,” Woodyard said.

The core group of seven ladies has grown to 20 – three people who cut material and 17 who do the actual stitching, with others serving as delivery people, Woodyard said. Some people had not touched a sewing machine in years. They have gotten them out, dusted them off, and are pitching in. “It’s been an amazing community effort, just wonderful.”

Many of the volunteers are grateful for something to do during this time and are praying over the fabric as they work, Woodyard said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thanked by the people who are doing this, and that really warms my heart.”

Fourth Avenue UMC, located in a struggling neighborhood just south of downtown Louisville, needed masks for its Open Door Ministry, said Rev. Jack Steiner, the Associate Pastor. The ministry has continued to share lunches with the neighborhood, distributing about 110 a day through the church door.

“We have been concerned about the safety of church staff and volunteers, many of whom fall into the category of more susceptible to COVID-19,” Steiner said in an email. Simpsonville was able to immediately supply Open Door with enough masks for staff and volunteers, Steiner said.

Kelly, Woodyard and the others at Simpsonville are more than happy to help. Jean Ann Martin, another member of the group, said they plan to continue making and giving away masks as long as there is a need for them. Some people have tried to pay, Woodyard said, but “this is our gift.” Those who insist on paying something can donate to the church’s fund for outreach projects, she said.

Simpsonville has been helping in other ways as well, Woodyard said. The church has been supplying nursing homes with coloring books and other items to keep residents occupied. Volunteers have also been helping with kids’ backpacks and running errands for those at high risk for infection. Someone also goes to the church to ring the bell each day at 10 a.m., as requested by Gov. Andy Beshear, Woodyard said. Their church is the only one in Simpsonville with a working bell tower, she said.

“I just can’t say enough for the people who worship together on Sundays, because they are involved in so many ways with what we do, in some capacity,” she said. “It’s a warm and very caring group.”

That sentiment is echoed by Kelly: “I have a wonderful team.”
Hartz to Hearts members will do their best to donate homemade cloth masks to groups or individuals that request them. They are packaged in bags of 10. To request them, email Wilda Woodyard at: