The month of March 2020 brought many unforeseen changes to daily life. On March 6, the coronavirus, which started in Wuhan, China in December 2019, reached Pennsylvania with the confirmation of the first two cases. By March 15, the worldwide pandemic began to have an impact on the residents in the Bird-in-Hand community when churches closed, schools followed the next day, and non-life-sustaining businesses were shuttered three days later on March 19.
Lancaster General Hospital had reported the first case in Lancaster County a day earlier on March 18. As numbers of cases and deaths climbed, Lancaster County received the stay-at-home directive on March 27.
During the anxious days of the pandemic, news reports were full of needs for medical supplies and food and the local community rose to the challenge. During emergencies, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) wanted to mobilize manufacturers who could potentially produce critical medical supplies and products in response to COVID-19.
Keith Greiner, our 43rd District representative in the PA House of Representatives, reached out to local manufacturers for permission to add them to a PEMA list. Among others, Shrock Fabrication was ready to make parts for ventilators and Carriage Machine Shop was ready to fabricate IV poles. Though the calls never came, these businesses were willing to switch their processes to make medical supplies if needed.
With the stay-at-home directives, residents stocked up on groceries to lessen trips to the supermarket. This depleted the stores’ bakery shelves so that no bread was leftover to give their usual donations to the Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services Food Bank. Beginning at the end of March, Bird-in-Hand Bakery filled in the gap by delivering bread and other baked goods on Wednesday mornings. The delivery is in time for the Food Banks’ weekly distribution to qualified clients starting at 10:30 a.m.
“Of making masks, there is no end!” This version of the verse from Ecclesiastes 12:12 could have been on the frazzled minds of Sylvan and Lorraine Stoltzfus and their daughter Marilyn Beiler of Bird-in-Hand Fabrics. Their customers began buying supplies to make face masks in mid-March. Knowing that their store would be closing, they offered to have their employees involved in sewing masks for customers.
That idea quickly snowballed. Even after setting up 10 sewing machines in their basement and sending supplies out to the homes of local seamstresses, the demand kept growing. Lancaster General Health wanted thousands of 100% cotton masks in case they ran out of N95 masks. An article about this effort in the March 25 LNP was titled, Amid Nationwide Shortage of Masks, Amish are Sewing 13,000 to Donate in Lancaster County.
The breaking point came when the WellSpan Health System, which serves a six-county area, called Sylvan requesting an incredible number of masks. Providently, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) soon called to offer their expertise. MDS took over the leadership, coordination, and logistics through their Lancaster Unit.
According to local MDS board member Manny Flaud, it has become a finely tuned network of phone operators, fabric cutters, seamstresses, drivers, and distributors. The upholstery department at Weavertown Coach was a site used by MDS, with many others doing their part as well. As of mid-May the count is approaching 300,000 masks!
Many masks were also being made in the Bird-in-Hand area on a smaller scale. Upon receiving a call from a homecare agency in Florida for seamstresses to make masks, Weavertown Amish Mennonite Church donated bolts of material. Mary King of Ronks coordinated the efforts of several women in the congregation and they made 200 masks to ship. Log Cabin Quilt Shop opened so that seamstresses could buy supplies to sew masks and they also had ready-made masks to sell.
The Bird-in-Hand community is truly blessed with resourceful and giving people who, time after time, rise to the occasion and do whatever is needed.
The upholstery department at Weavertown Coach was one of the settings for mask manufacturing by area seamstresses. Hinkletown Sewing Machine Shop loaned sewing machines for the cause.