On April 15, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an order requiring workers and customers at essential businesses to wear masks.
Masks, like other supplies used to fight the spread of illness, are hard to find on store shelves due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In communities across the nation, people who sew grabbed their machines and pressed down the pedal – never looking back. Among them is Shippensburg University freshman Rebecca Fickel.
Fickel started sewing during her early years at Big Spring High School. The teenager loved wearing headbands but grew tired of buying them. She decided to learn how to make her own. Fickel now sells headbands and scrunchies on Instagram and at craft shows. All it took was one Youtube video for Fickel to change – and potentially save – lives.
Before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the region, life was normal for Fickel and her mother, Heather. They were grocery shopping when a family friend reached out with a question that would change her life. Fickel said the friend works at a nursing rehabilitation center where the staff were running low on masks. She sought out Fickel, hoping she would be able to sew masks.
Fickel told her friend she never tried it but said, “I guess I can.”
Fickel and her mother picked up supplies and tried to fulfill the friend’s request. After searching the internet, Fickel found a design and began sewing. A few minutes later, Fickel completed her first of many masks. She began to take more and more requests for masks.
As business started to pick up, Fickel ran into a problem — her machine broke.
“OK, no worries, I’ll just call Pap,” Fickel said.
Her grandfather fixed the machine so she could continue her project. However, Fickel said the machine broke again shortly after. With more than 100 orders waiting, she knew she was in trouble. Fickel and her mother looked online for sewing machines but were met with out-of-stock machines and gouged prices.
Disappointed, Fickel began to look elsewhere. She messaged her fellow DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship leadership team members, explaining her situation.
“Pray for me, I’m overwhelmed,” Fickel said.
Soon after the plea for prayer, one of the leaders and his wife contacted Fickel. They offered to lend Fickel their sewing machine for as long as she needed it.
Fickel was back in business.
Although the machine was not identical to the one she was used to using, Fickel soon fell in love with it. She felt very comfortable with it, so Fickel and her mother decided to try to purchase one online.
“We looked it up and I don’t know how or why, but suddenly it’s the only one available,” she said.
And somehow, the retailer had one in stock.
It was more expensive than what Fickel wanted, but she decided it was OK since she was still working. Soon after the purchase, Fickel received a message from a pastor in the Newville area.
“I left something in your mailbox for you,” the message said.
In the mailbox, Fickel found a check to cover the cost of the sewing machine and felt an overwhelming sense of kindness. She is not one to ask for help.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Fickel has made more than 550 masks. Each mask takes between two-three minutes to make, according to Fickel. She credits her mother for measuring and cutting the fabrics, while she focuses on sewing.
She said she had at least 43 more masks to make and continues to receive orders daily.
After Wolf mandated that Pennsylvanians use masks in public places, Fickel received many inquiries about her project. In fact, her Facebook inbox was full of messages.
“The demographic of who needed a mask since the very beginning has changed to everyone,” she said.
The Shippensburg resident continues to work at Sheetz while balancing classes and mask making during the pandemic.
Between work and classes, Fickel can be found in her room or dining room creating masks. She takes orders through her Facebook account and asks for a $3 to $5 donation in return.
All proceeds from Fickel’s project will go to The PAW Packs Program, a nonprofit community program that provides weekend meals to children in the Big Spring School District.
Prior to the closure of Pennsylvania schools, the program served around 125 children a week. Now, it is serving 375-400 children.
Kim Bailey, PAW Packs program coordinator, said the donations will go to buy much-needed food for children living in food-insecure homes. She expressed her gratitude for Fickel’s efforts.
“It warmed my heart to see how the younger generation have stepped up to help those in need during this most difficult time,” Bailey said. “I am so thankful to God for people like Rebecca who have stepped up to show love and kindness.”
So far, Fickel has raised more than $2,500.
“I have the opportunity to help, and there is a need,” Fickel said.
She said she chose the program because of her church’s (Newville First Church of God) deep involvement.
“It is really heavy on my heart that kids are taken care of and are loved well,” she said. “I think it’s really important to meet the needs of the community.”
Fickel said she does not see herself stopping mask production and will continue to serve the community.
Her community is recognizing her hard work. ABC27 honored Fickel as a “Hometown Hero.”
Fickel enjoys being a part of her community — especially the SU community. When SU decided to move the remainder of the spring 2020 semester online, Fickel was upset. She enjoys helping others on campus and wanted to continue that work.
“It was hard for me to visualize how I could do that,” Fickel said. “I never thought this would be the situation.
But now, as she sews masks, Fickel remains grateful for the newfound opportunity.
“I am really thankful to be able to serve others in this way,” she said.