Teenager on a mask mission to protect essential workers

Amber Forehand is a teenager who’s not used to being bored. She’s a junior at Bucks County Technical High School who dreams of becoming a teacher. Every night, she’s either at dance class or her part-time job at Five Below.

So when the coronavirus crisis closed schools, stores, and recreation and sports places like dance studios, the 17-year-old had energy to burn.

She put her newfound time to good use: She made 65 protective face masks for healthcare workers on the front lines, including nurses, social workers at others at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, where her mother Liz Luciano works.

Love to help

“I absolutely love that I get to help people and nurses,” Amber said. “They don’t get a lot of credit half the time, and they’re doing so much right now. It’s just awful and really scary that they don’t have enough protective gear!”

Before last weekend, Amber had “never sewed a stitch!” her mother laughed. But she’s been spending her “corona-cation,” as she calls it, learning new skills like cooking.

She’d long been interested in learning to sew, in hopes of making some cool new outfits. So Luciano, pictured with Amber below, pulled her old sewing machine out of the closet and gathered unused fabric remnants from other projects. Together, they spent Saturday experimenting on the machine to devise a face mask pattern that’d be easy enough for a rookie seamstress. Pleats proved too tough to master. “Although they look really good, they’re difficult to sew, so I was struggling,” Amber said.

Gear sorely needed

They ended up with a design suitable to cover N95 masks, with an opening for filters. Amber subsequently made so many masks they ran out of material.

Besides helping essential workers get sorely needed protective gear, the project has provided lots of sweet mother-daughter bonding time.

“This crisis has been a terrible time,” said Luciano, who has worked for Catholic Charities for 23 years and now heads the agency’s information management. “It definitely has brought us back to basics. We don’t even need the TV. I have her attention, that’s the cool part about it.”

Nurses, doctors, and other staff in Catholic Charities behavioral health and addictions programs now are wearing Amber’s creations.

“We are so grateful for the donation!” said Lisa Merritt, pictured left, Catholic Charities’ director of nursing. “It’s the little things that count, especially during times like this. Many of our front-line staff – clinicians, doctors, and nurses – have been providing services in the community to our clients without much-needed supplies. This is really appreciated.”

Amber, who’s also learning to crochet, says she’ll make more masks – if she can find more material. She just wants to continue helping people.

To nurses and others on the front lines of the pandemic, Amber said, “I would just say thank you. Thank you like a million times. Because even if they’re not helping me personally, they’re doing so much, and they deserve all the credit in the entire world, because they’re freaking amazing!”

Other angels in action

Amber’s not the only angel working to equip Catholic Charities’ essential workers with personal protective gear.

Maureen Bacon, whose mother Sharon Carlson has worked at Catholic Charities for 20 years, made 42 masks for staff who work in the Program for Assertive Community Treatment, or PACT. Catholic Charities has four PACT teams in Mercer and Burlington counties to help people with severe and persistent mental illness live independently in the community. Those teams continue reporting to work daily and visiting clients’ homes to administer medication and otherwise assist clients.

Maureen, a new mother from Hamilton Square, is a seamstress who makes baby clothes for the online Etsy store RylanNicole Designs. Carlson is pictured at right with Maureen, granddaughter Audrey, and dog Minnie.

Maureen began making masks to protect her family, her mother said. Carlson continues working for PACT, where she’s an administrative assistant, while her husband is a truck driver who “is in and out of places every day,” she said. Carlson knew her PACT colleagues could really use them too, and so Maureen got busy.

Can you help?

Personal protective equipment continues to be in short supply. If you can donate protective gear, including face masks, gloves, protective gowns, or hand sanitizer, alert Lisa Merritt, director of nursing, at [email protected] or (609) 306-5830.

Have fabric you can donate for Amber to make more masks? Email Dana DiFilippo at [email protected]. (Fabric must be new and a tight-weave material like cotton.)

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