The Plattsburgh State Theatre Department was in the middle of preparing costumes for its spring show, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all SUNY schools would be moved to distance learning March 19.
Technical Director Ben Wright suggested they start using their resources to make masks, as the majority of the theater department can sew. Department chair Kim Hartshorn said it was also a way to keep students who are employed by the department working. All of the masks are made from leftover cotton fabric they didn’t use making costumes. They also distributed the department’s sewing machines to faculty and students willing to help. About eight people have made close to 400 masks so far.
Costume Shop Cutter/Draper Amy Robinson and Associate Theatre Professor Erika Guay started the project by joining Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Champlain Valley Quilters Guild Facebook groups to find out where the masks were most needed. Robinson only posted one or two messages asking if anyone needed them before the requests started rolling in.
“Pretty soon, I was overwhelmed with personal orders from people,” Robinson said. “And then we found out that CVPH needed masks in nearly every department.”
One of her first requests came from Vanessa Harnden, a Plattsburgh resident and mother of two. Robinson met her in a Wal-Mart parking lot to give three masks, an adult size and two children’s, to her. As she was leaving, Robinson saw Harnden give one of her masks away to a child in another family who was entering the grocery store and needed one. She texted Harnden later that day to tell her she had seen her selfless act and was making her a replacement.
Samuel Rivera is a junior nutrition major and works in the theater department doing construction. He has been making masks from his home in Orange County, New York, for friends and family. He has made between 40 and 50 masks.
“The last time I sewed was in sixth grade home-ec,” Rivera said. “So I just did what you can do with everything now and looked it up on YouTube and figured it all out.”
Everyone has found a different way of distributing their masks with little to no human contact. Guay and Robinson have met with people in parking lots. Rivera drops them in mailboxes, and Hartshorn tapes them to his door so essential campus workers can take them. They have also dropped them off at collection points such as Hulbert Supply, a Plattsburgh plumbing and heating store, which collects for Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, and the University Police station, which collects for students and essential campus workers.
On April 23, a mask appeared taped to the door of every student still living on campus. There are about 200 students still living in the dorms because they are international students or have extenuating circumstances. Leah Sweeney, assistant events manager under the office of administration and finance, made almost all of these masks, with some contribution from Guay. She did this after Amanda Suriel, who works in the Global Education Office, approached her about starting a movement to supply masks to the students.
“[The masks are] free of charge, but people will try to pay us or tip us,” Robinson said. “But I’ll say, ‘No, this is free, courtesy of SUNY Plattsburgh.”’
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