Talents turned into service
Providence woman, family make masks
By Katherine Crowe
Sheena LeMay-Nelssen, a small business owner and mother of two, has been working nonstop to produce and distribute
reusable fabric masks to the public at little to no cost.
She, like many, is immune-compromised and considered to be at high risk for contracting the novel coronavirus.
“I want to be able to help someone out with this skill that I have,” she said.
What would eventually evolve into a massive operation began with a simple request: a friend commissioning LeMay-Nelssen for masks to give to her sister, who is a nurse.
She obliged, filling the request and posting pictures of the finished product to social media, where the response was instant. After the initial post, she began receiving orders and requests on a massive scale. As of writing, she has made and distributed more than 1,100 masks.
She noticed in March that people were generally making masks specifically for essential workers and decided to take a different approach: distribute masks to everyone she could.
She started that before public health officials encouraged the widespread use of masks to contain the spread of COVID-19.
As a result of the limitations caused by the pandemic, LeMay-Nelssen has had to get creative.
To distribute masks without any direct contact, she set up a tower outside of her front door and clipped bags of masks to the structure with clothespins.
When she needed fabric, instead of going out to buy more and putting herself at risk, she dipped into the stores left behind by her late mother. More recently, though, she has used the donations she has received from the community.
“A lot of people donated fabric,” she said. “I had so much fabric that I was turning people down for a while. I had an overwhelming abundance of it because people were so giving.”
At points, she estimates she was making as many as 100 masks a day.
She did, at times, find herself getting overwhelmed with the endeavor.
The most difficult part, she said, was finding time to make all of these masks and still be an active mom, especially with the new responsibility of educating her children at home.
As time went on, though, she found tasks to delegate. Her husband helped cut strings on his weekends off; her children, 7 and 2, packed shipments and placed shipping labels. Her oldest child even earned a Girl Scouts badge for learning how to make her own mask.
She intends to continue her efforts indefinitely.
“As long as there’s a need, I will continue to make masks,” LeMay-Nelssen said.
She finds that recently most of her masks are specialty requests—holidays and birthdays. She even has requests coming in for Christmas masks.
She cites her mother as her inspiration for doing all this. Her mother taught her how to sew, and LeMay-Nelssen decided that she might as well use the skills she has to help as much as she can.
“Even if I can’t be a nurse, even if I can’t donate money, I can donate my time,” she said.