Inmates at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility are busy making hundreds of cloth masks for distribution to fellow inmates, law enforcement officials, and essential workers in Suffolk County.
Lt. Adeline Kuhnle, the project leader for the initiative who is in charge of the rehabilitation unit for the Riverhead and Yaphank facilities, said she was approached about the idea. It just so happened she was already looking at organizing something similar.
“It truly was a collaborative effort,” she said. “Many years ago, we had a sewing program for the inmates, so I went in search of the old equipment.”
Kuhnle found six working industrial-sized sewing machines and material that had been in storage for years. She enlisted the help of any officer who may have knowledge of working with one, and said Sgt. Shawn Springsteen and Officer Susan Agate “came to the rescue.” A group of female inmates, some of whom have sewing skills, and others who simply expressed a willingness to learn, help, and give back also wanted to contribute to the effort.
“I think the program is wonderful for the inmates,” Kuhnle said. “They love coming down and participating. They tell me they like feeling productive and are proud to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. I believe it is important because it gives them a sense of accomplishment and purpose. The morale is high, and that is important especially in a time of national crisis and they are separated from their families and children. I have received comments from other officers that work closely with these particular inmates, that they see a positive change in their attitudes and behavior. I believe I speak for the rehabilitation staff when I say that it feels good to see the officers and inmates working together to contribute to the cause.”
So far, more than 800 face coverings have been sewn over the last few days. The correctional facility expects to have 1200 in stock by the weekend. Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he couldn’t be more pleased with the work. He believes his staff has come together in creative and unique ways during this pandemic.
“I take the public health component of my responsibilities very seriously, and this is just one of a multitude of ways we are working to prevent the spread of the coronavirus inside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility,” he said. “The inmates are learning skills while giving back to society and helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s of great benefit to all.”
Every inmate will be issued two washable cloth masks. While sheriff’s office employees already have personal protective equipment as a result of being essential workers mandated to wear the gear, these masks will also be made available and distributed to them as needed. The sheriff hopes to begin donating the masks to outside agencies and essential workers soon.
To assist with this effort, Toulon Jr. is requesting donations of cotton cloth and elastic for the ear loops — either 0.125 inches or 3 millimeters flat or round, white or black, woven or braided elastic in spools of any length.
“The laundry department then donated new unused sheets for the material and we have already begun receiving donated material from outside sources such as Axis Church [in Medford] and New Hour for Women and Children [a Brentwood-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting and empowering justice-impacted women and their children],” Kuhnle said. “We welcome any donated materials.”
Anyone wishing to contribute can contact Lt. Kuhnle at firstname.lastname@example.org.