BALTIMORE, Md.—Perhaps it was when Jill Hays received a donation of $200 from a stranger who she mailed two masks to recently. Or maybe it was when nurses from a Florida hospital requested that she send them several dozen masks. But for sure, Hays realized in early April that her sewing skills combined with her compassion and generosity were deeply appreciated when the first requests for her masks came in from her daughter, a nurse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her daughter-in-law, a nurse who works at a rehabilitation center in Indiana, Pennsylvania, when they were the first to ask if she would be willing to use her sewing skills to make them some masks.
Hays, a Transportation Security Administration supervisor at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), made about 25 masks for her daughter who recently graduated from nursing school to share with her colleagues at UPMC St-Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh, plus an additional 10 that were sized for children. And she made 15 for her daughter-in-law to share with her colleagues at Scenery Hill Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Pennsylvania, again ensuring there were plenty sized for children.
“Then I put out a message on Facebook telling people that regardless of their circumstances that I would make them masks. All they had to do was to send me a message,” Hays said. The orders for free masks poured in and so far she has sewn and shipped more than 600 of them, mostly mailed to strangers who reached out to her. She admits to having taken multiple trips to the post office with armloads of packages.
Hays is sewing and shipping the masks for free because she recognizes that everyone’s circumstances are different. Some individuals have sent her donations and when she mailed two
masks to a woman from Bethesda, Maryland, a thank you note came with $200, which Hays used to cover her shipping costs to send the masks from coast to coast—Maine to Hawaii, she says. She has also purchased additional fabric and elastic.
The largest request came in from a Florida hospital nurse who requested 60 masks. Another request came in for 40 masks for a nurse’s association.
So how does a TSA supervisor find the time to sew so many masks? Hays, who has worked for TSA since August 2002, first at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE), then Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) before arriving at BWI in 2013, is on the 3:30 a.m. to noon shift at BWI. So she has some time in the afternoons. But most of the work was completed during her vacation.
Hays had been scheduled for a week-long vacation in April, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic, so she spent six to eight hours a day sewing. “It kept me focused on something positive and away from watching the depressing news about the coronavirus all day long.” Hays also gives credit to her husband, who stepped up to do the household tasks from cooking and cleaning to yard work, which enabled her to focus on the sewing.
She sends the masks with a little note reminding the recipients to wash the masks before wearing them for the first time, and she frequently gets thank you notes in return for her kindness, often with photos of the mask recipients modeling their latest coronavirus fashion statement.