From left, Barbara Hails, JoAnn Serafin, Linda Wagner, Chris Olsen and Diane Hunold display the cloth face masks their sewing group has made.

Homemade Face Masks Part of Welcome for New Residents

Published May 6, 2020

story by dirk hoffman

Despite not being able to gather together in a large group, the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences wants to extend a warm welcome to its incoming class of residents and fellows.


To that end, the school will be providing welcome bags at its orientations for 194 new residents June 22-26 and for 51 PGY-2 residents and fellows on July 1.

In the age of COVID-19, one of the items in the welcome bags will be a homemade cloth face mask made by a local sewing group.

Reaching Out for Help From Former Colleague

“We thought masks for them to use in public or for family members would be a good option to include,” says Sharon M. Sullivan, director of operations and project management in the Office of Graduate Medical Education.

Sullivan reached out to Barbara Hails, a former training program administrator for radiation oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, who retired in January 2019.

“Barb and her friends are sewing masks to give to anyone who needs one. I asked her if her group could provide us with 275 masks to include in our welcome bags at orientation,” Sullivan says. “Barb is still happy to support residents and fellows, even though she is retired now.”

Sewing Group Comprises Friends, Neighbors

Hails says when the pandemic started, she and a friend noted they had a lot of material so they decided to start making masks for family and friends. Soon, other neighbors and friends joined the group, bringing the total to five.

“We all watched the tutorial on the Joann Fabrics website and started,” Hails says. “As I would sew I would think of people to contact to see if they needed a mask and I called a dear friend, Audrey Pawlowski, who is a quilter and has been trying to give me material for years.”

“So we had all the supplies needed, there was no need to charge people. We were clearing out material and helping people. And also keeping our sanity through this epidemic,” she adds.

Each Mask Takes About 20 Minutes to Complete

Hails says it takes about 20 minutes to make each mask and the group has received donations of elastic after running low. The group has made more than 1,200 masks thus far and has sent some to Roswell Park, Lancaster schools and nationally, to the Best Friends Animal Society.

“When Sharon contacted me, at first when I heard 275, I thought ‘wow, can we do this?’ But then she said she did not need them until June, so I asked my group and they said yes,” Hails says.

“As a former training program administrator, residents are very close to my heart. And Sharon, as well. I always told her she was my angel on earth.”

“I could go on and on about what a great feeling this is to help others, clean out beautiful material and spend hours in my sewing room,” Hails adds. “I just ask everyone to pay it forward and stay safe.”

Orientations Mix of Virtual and Physical

Sullivan says while the majority of the orientations can be handled virtually through online meetings, some activities, such as physicals, professional photographs, Jacobs School computer access and identity proofing and distribution of UB ID cards, must be done in person.

“We are utilizing social distancing and spreading out scheduling over a longer period of time to accommodate social distancing guidelines and ensuring a safe environment for residents and staff,” she says.

“As we look to implement creative and efficient ways to accomplish our orientation activities during this public health emergency, we plan all of it with the ultimate goal of ensuring a warm welcome to our incoming residents and fellows,” Sullivan adds.

“And who knows? Perhaps we will unlock a new way to tend to the business of orientation that will prove to be beneficial for us to continue for years to come.”