The Mass-Mask Making Effort of Dearborn – How One Community is Fighting the Shortage of Medical Supplies

By Simon Albaugh

“We live in a community where people get involved,” Leslie Curtis said. “And I like that about living in Dearborn.”

Leslie Curtis is the Art teacher at Fordson High School. Lately, she’s been keeping up with students as much as the school closures would allow. So for right now, she’s sending out assignments and grading whatever’s turned in online.

When she’s not in a virtual classroom, she’s buying, cutting and sewing fabric. A few people have been spending around 4 hours each day next to the television, radio, or their family, doing nothing but sewing.

There’s a lot of groups doing this. So many groups, Curtis explains, that the area Jo-Anne Fabrics store was compelled to reopen just to keep up with the community effort. The group Curtis is in will be on track to sew over 1,000 masks for area hospitals by the end of next week. Although the group can’t produce the coveted N95 masks that are certified to block pathogens, they’ve done their research.

“These masks can help prolong a respirator [like the N95] because they wear the fabric over it,” said Carrie Thorpe, another member of that group. “So when they’re going from patient room to patient room and should be changing their mask, they can because these are possible.”

If you’re having a hard time keeping up with the intricacies of surgical masks, you wouldn’t be the only one. It’s an oddly specific piece of equipment that has proved to be essential in fighting the Coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is caused by the Coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, recently went on the Daily Show to talk about his biggest fear in terms of infectious diseases.

“When people used to ask me what it is I’m most worried about,” Dr. Fauci told Daily Show Host Trevor Noah, “It’s a respiratory illness that easily spreads from person to person… With this disease, you can spread it very easily. You can even spread it when you don’t have symptoms.”

The Coronavirus spreads through particles in the air, on surfaces, or on your hands. The particles that have Coronavirus pathogens are spread through coughing or other means. That’s why it’s so essential for medical workers to have masks. It blocks the Coronavirus pathogens in the air from entering the body.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the leading infectious disease expert. He’s been working closely with the White House on efforts to slow the spread of the Novel Coronavirus.


Anthony Manno is the fourth generation to work at Manno Clothing and Tailoring in Dearborn. Since the Coronavirus outbreak began, Manno’s has been closed to the public. But that hasn’t stopped his father Pat Manno, the owner of Manno’s, from keeping everyone working.

The workers of Manno Clothing and Tailoring are making masks for the area hospitals. Anthony explained that this is a way for the workers to continue making a steady paycheck while doing something that is essential.

“We’ve kind of set up an assembly line,” Anthony said. “So everybody does their part, you know, whether it’s cutting or stitching or using whatever it may be, and then putting them together. So it’s coming along.”

But why are so many people in Dearborn making masks? While there is an industry dedicated to producing nothing but masks and N95 Respirators, there’s a nationwide shortage. 3M, the largest manufacturer of N95 Respirators just announced that they’re not selling to the general public.

Hospitals around the country are demanding so many masks, that many departments in hospitals are forced to send all their equipment to the medical workers who directly treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

“I just delivered some the other day to Beaumont Hospital Dearborn,” Anthony said. “And this is a pre anesthesia department. They had all of their masks taken away from them so they could be diverted to other sectors that were in greater need.”

Manno Clothing and Tailoring is producing around 1,000 cotton masks each week. The fabric has be 100% cotton so the mask could be washed and used again.

Carrie Thorpe has been enlisting the help of family, her rotary club, and other people in the Dearborn community. These days, she jokingly explains, she has two jobs: her full-time, work from home career, and making masks. She says she learned how to do it from a YouTube video. And she’s always open to explain it to other people.

“I was just contacted by the sewing group at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to find out how we were doing it, and what they needed to do to make them,” Thorpe said. “So, anybody who asks, I’m telling them how we’re making them, because we found a pattern that we found easy. It’s just straight lines. No fancy stitches.”