Nimble Fingers and Willing Hearts
You can’t be a dentist if you’re not good with your hands. And when clinical and preclinical training at Tufts School of Dental Medicine was put on hold because of the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of dental students found themselves with time on their hands. That inspired one first-year student to put those resources together to help fill the need for protective equipment for health-care workers.
“One of the biggest things of being a dental student is having manual dexterity. We’re crafty individuals,” said Stephanie Smith, D23, who makes and sells jewelry through her Etsy business. As she started to see instructions online for making face masks to supplement the growing need, she realized that she and her classmates could help fill the gap.
Together with Nancy Marks, Tisch College’s community service learning coordinator at the dental school, Smith developed Collect2Protect Healthcare Heroes, a volunteer corps that has produced upwards of seven hundred face masks and shields for use in health-care facilities in Boston and elsewhere.
Dallas Huff, D23, Gabrielle Milton, D23, and Elizabeth Colby, D21, are also coordinating the effort, which has seen one hundred people sign on to produce the protective items, make pickups or deliveries, or pitch in as necessary. For volunteers who don’t have the necessary tools for masks or shields, Collect2Protect has also launched a thank-you card drive to honor health-care workers.
Notably, the effort has spread beyond Tufts dental students, with faculty, staff, alumni, friends, family, and predental students from other colleges joining in. “There has been no shortage of love,” Marks said.
The bulk of the masks are going to the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain and Pine Street Inn homeless service in Boston. The team produced 160 clear vinyl face shields for the clinic at Boston Heath Care for the Homeless and the group is in conversation with other health-care establishments about their needs.
Volunteers outside Boston are donating their handiwork to health-care workers in their areas. “We wanted to create a way that people could contribute no matter where they were currently residing and not have to come to Boston to be involved,” Marks said.
Like other mask-makers during the pandemic, the Collect2Protect volunteers have had to get creative about materials, turning to their own fabric stashes, donated fabric, or even repurposed pillow cases; they have scrambled for substitutes as elastic falls into short supply. And, with demand for masks and shields anticipated to last another six to eight weeks, the need for cotton, elastic, volunteers, and innovative thinking is expected to continue.
To make ear straps, “we’ve been using hair ties, and pieces of cloth cut to fit,” said Edson De Sousa, a predental student at UMass Boston, who waited at a shop for two hours on a recent Sunday to buy fabric. He started making masks with his aunt, Carmelita De Sousa, after seeing the project on the account of a Tufts dentist he follows on Instagram. Together, they produced about 140 masks, with Edson getting a crash course in sewing in the process. “This is the perfect fit,” he said. “I’m helping the community, getting a new hobby, and, since I want to be a dentist, it improves my manual dexterity.”
To volunteer, contact Nancy.firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, face-mask makers need to purchase their own materials and have a sewing machine; face-shield makers and thank-you card makers must also purchase their own materials.