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Mary Masks

Warren County’s must-have accessory

Photos submitted to Times Observe Mary Passinger makes “Mary Masks” at her home in Sugar Grove. Since the start of the pandemic, Passinger has made and given away over 4,500 cloth masks.

Masks — not just for Halloween any more.

Over the past year, masks have become commonplace.

And, over that time, one person has put thousands of home-made masks into the Warren County community.

Mary Masks are everywhere.

Mary Passinger of Sugar Grove started making masks in March when she heard that hospitals were in dire need.

“I found a how-to video on YouTube and I was off and running,” Passinger said.

The instructions called for a layer of flannel between layers of cotton. Those specifications were up to industry standards. “I was lucky that the video I watched met the CDC recommendations,” she said.

She had cotton and flannel left over from other projects, but elastic was a challenge.

“When I first started there was no elastic to be found, but my sister-in-law, Karen Eggleston, had a cone of elastic left from her fabric store,” she said.

She cannibalized materials as needed. “When I ran out of that, I used children’s leggings, which actually worked really well,” Passinger said. “Eventually, the production of elastic caught up with demand.”

“I believe that it is important to wear masks,” Passinger said. “The science has proven that over and over.”

The fabric she had was good enough, but it wasn’t quite good enough. She started making, and giving away, more interesting masks.

“I believe that people will be more likely to wear a mask if it is comfortable and cute,” she said. “I also do not want anyone to go without a mask because he/she doesn’t have a few dollars to spend on one.”

“I quickly realized that a wide variety of fabric made it more fun,” she said. “I’ve hit most of the holidays — 750 for Christmas — and some of the more popular sports teams. I should definitely invest in stock in Joann’s. Several people have donated a wide variety of fabric also.”

She made her first masks because she heard hospitals needed them. It didn’t work out that way, but there was plenty of need.

“Although the hospital was not accepting homemade masks at the time, Hospice, nursing homes and individuals did need them,” Passinger said. “I have also donated to several pre-schools and classrooms.”

Those destinations should not be surprising; Passinger is a retired teacher and a Warren County School District school board member.

It was when other board members heard of her good deed that her enterprise got a name. “A fellow board member coined the phrase ‘Mary Masks,'” she said.

Since March, Passinger has made thousands of masks.

“When I started I had no idea that a year later I would still be making masks, and would have already made and donated 4,500 of them,” she said. “I have ‘met’ hundreds of awesome people — I haven’t physically met them; all deliveries are non-contact.”

“I am really impressed with the people of Warren County and how much they are willing to help other people,” Passinger said. “Although I don’t charge anything, I’ve had people donate money, gas cards, fabric, and gift cards.”

Her assembly line is limited. As is her shipping and receiving department. “It really is a two-person operation,” Passinger said. “My husband, Bob, does all the chauffeuring when we deliver, as well as cutting elastic and whatever else I ask him to do.”

Of course, Mary Masks don’t stop at the county, or state, line.

“Now, there are Mary Masks in dozens of states,” she said. “I even had a request from England.”

Passinger isn’t tired of the work and she plans to outlast the pandemic.

“As long as we are still required to wear masks, I will keep making them for anyone who wants one, or two, or three,” she said.

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