Ilissa Loewenstein Meyer, a member of the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, has lived in East Hampton for almost two decades. For the past 12 years, she has managed her husband’s equine veterinary business. Like so many, she spent the first few weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded feeling helpless. But Meyer is not the type to stand idly by.
“Ilissa is a force of nature,” said Kathy Walsh, a fellow LVIS member. “I worked with her when she took over the chance booth at the fair about nine years ago, and that year it brought in the most money it ever made. We’ve also worked together on the food booth and she worked harder than I could imagine anyone else doing.”
Meyer’s friend, Bonnie Brady, of Montauk, told her about how she and a group of volunteers, working with East End Cares, had gathered to make protective masks for frontline health care workers. Masks were in such short supply, yet in such desperate demand.
The group used inner linings made from pieces of industrial air filters, designed by Montauk resident Donna Matlock, who had made her first mask to protect her husband, a lung cancer survivor. The masks the group made are almost as effective as the N95 masks hospitals medical staff use. The group learned how to make them by watching a step-by-step instructional video Matlock made and posted on YouTube.
Hearing Brady’s updates and progress reports and developments inspired her.
“I thought of all the people in East Hampton who are at risk as they go about their daily jobs, not only in hospitals and frontline situations, but all those people working in East Hampton’s stores and essential businesses,” Meyer said. “These people are a crucial part of keeping our daily lives going.”
She realized in a way, the mask makers are essential, too.
“They’re an enormous part of what stands between us and an apocalyptic scenario in which the population can’t get food, basic supplies, and basic services,” Meyer said.
Brady gave her a donation wish list, which included cotton fabric, and that provided the “aha!” moment for Meyer. At the LVIS shop, she had worked measuring and pricing fabric sold, and remembered the endless supplies stored away in the now-closed building.
Energized and seeing an opportunity to contribute, Meyer sprang into action. She reached out to LVIS President Ann Davis, who agreed to donate the cotton fabric to the mask-making effort. Meyer, Davis, and several other organization members strategized and implemented ways of getting the fabric, and convinced LVIS’s board of directors to reach out to its hundreds of members through an email blast requesting volunteers.
Within days, Meyer had responses from several skilled sewers who owned machines, as well as from cutters and transport volunteers. More members were volunteering daily.
With advice from the Montauk group, she quickly ordered enough of the MERV 13 filter material to block out the novel coronavirus to make 800 masks. She and the volunteers begin constructing the masks this week.
Meyer also created a Facebook page, found at www.facebook.com/EHCovid19Masks/, where information will be posted for those who wish to volunteer, or who know of anyone in need of the masks, including health care workers, food pantry workers and volunteers, school food distribution centers, and anyone working with the public, especially those working in stores that sell food. Residents can also reach out to help through the email EHCovid19Masks@gmail.com.
“I have lived in East Hampton with my husband for almost 20 years now, which, in Bonac terms, is about two minutes,” Meyer said. “I love and respect our town and believe that local residents must take care of each other.”