Ohio University

Local fiber arts group helps out community with mask ear savers

Published: September 23, 2020 Author: Jalyn Bolyard

A fiber arts group, made up of Ohio University and Athens community members, has given back to the local area by stitching and donating “ear savers,” small sewn pieces with buttons that can hold back mask strings off of ears, during the pandemic. 

The group was created after Dr. Gillian Ice, a professor of social medicine in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and now the special assistant to the president for public health operations, made a call on Facebook for people to come together to stitch and converse. The group only met once in person before the pandemic began.

Their goal changed from being a place to talk, to being a place of service. After seeing a need in the community for something to hold masks strings back for essential workers to alleviate pain, the group of about 70 members began doing their own part in the effort to make as many ear savers as possible. 

“A lot of people just jumped in to create them,” Ice said. “It’s been all volunteer. There’s no true system [to make the pieces], we’ve just been helping each other out.” 

While some people stitch, others put on buttons or drive supplies to each others’ houses to leave on porches or in mailboxes. Once pieces are completed, the group donates the ear savers to local healthcare providers and other essential workers.

“I found that the simple act of sewing buttons on ear savers not only allowed me to do something to help our frontline healthcare, service and other essential workers, but it kept me occupied in the evenings and on weekends while outside activities were limited. I also enjoyed reconnecting with some old friends in the process,” Debra McBride, interim director of OHIO’s Global Health Initiative within the College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP), said.

Jodie Robinson, infection and prevention and control nurse at Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare in Athens, is one of the essential workers that was gifted ear savers. 

“The wearing of a mask for 12, sometimes 16 hours a day is hot, cumbersome and can do some real damage to one’s ears,” Robinson said. “Gillian and all of the volunteers were like guardian angels to our staff. These ear protectors were a much-appreciated gift and the gesture of kindness won’t be forgotten.” 

Robinson said that the fiber arts group never seems to tire of making more ear savers for the facility upon request, and she noted it is another example of how the Athens community comes together in times of adversity and challenge. 

Donations of ear savers have also been given to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, Shriver’s Pharmacy and urgent care centers as well as random drop offs at grocery stores and individual requests the group receives.

School of Nursing students during clinical
A CHSP School of Nursing student putting on an ear saver during class. Photo provided by Patricia Snider

The fiber arts group also made an impact for OHIO students. After learning about the ear savers project, Patricia Snider, MSN, BSN, RN, associate director for BSN operations at OHIO, reached out to Ice to see if the craft group would be interested in making 1,000 ear savers for CHSP’s School of Nursing students, for their labs and clinicals, to save the students from ear pain and ear ulceration caused from wearing the masks all day. 

The group was happy to do so, and many members contributed to finishing the order. The ear savers were then distributed to OHIO’s nursing students at the main campus as well as the regional campuses.

“The students were very happy to get the masks and the School of Nursing is very thankful to Gillian’s local craft group in Athens. We are very thankful that they stepped up and helped our students in this manner,” Snider said. “People don’t realize what a problem these little elastic bands can be for your ears [when wearing them] for eight hours a day.” 

While socially distanced, the group has so far made almost 2,000 ear savers pieces, including 1,000 for the School of Nursing. Filling orders requires a lot of hands to stitch and button, and the group also received help fulfilling orders when local Girl Scout Troop 51001 decided to participate.

A nursing student models an ear savers piece
A nursing student models how an ear savers piece holds back the mask strings. Photo provided by Patricia Snider

Ting-Ting Lin, professor of instruction in the College of Business, participated in the group alongside her daughter, Iris, who is a Girl Scout.

“Iris felt very proud to be able to join the community to help our health providers. She also enjoyed learning a new skill to sew buttons,” Lin said. “I crocheted, and she helped me weave in the end and sew on buttons. We had many hours of fun and sometimes deep conversations while working together. It is one of the fond memories during this dark time.”

Several other parents of Girl Scouts shared her sentiments, and told Lin they were glad their children were able to help the community while having fun and learning how to sew. One mom also noted that her daughter learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes work, from asking for donations for supplies, to sorting buttons and making bags of craft items for others to work on, all while having fun working on a group project, even though the troop couldn’t be together in person.

Jacquelin Weber, senior director of donor engagement, was also involved in the project with her daughter, Julia Weber, who is currently a senior at Athens High School and an OHIO College Credit Plus student. She has used the opportunity to complete volunteer hours for a national youth leadership organization. 

“For me, it’s really important because I want to know that I’m helping my community and those most at risk right now,” Julia Weber said. “I think it’s really important that we offer our support to those working on the front lines to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. I just want to do my part to keep my community safe.”  

The mother and daughter duo both looked forward to the group as an outlet to give back to essential workers and “be a part of a solution” in helping the community during the pandemic, Jacquelin Weber noted. They both contributed in their own unique ways, from Julia adding on buttons to Jacquelin driving supplies across town.

Supplies of ear savers for masks, yarn and buttons
Some completed ear savers and supplies. Photo provided by Jacquelin Weber

“I don’t have the skillset to work on the front lines in healthcare, but I think the thing to do is to look for areas where you can help,” Jacquelin Weber said. “I think if we can each find a little space where we can help, that just makes a huge difference, even if it’s toting items around town to those people that need them. It’s a small piece but it’s a piece I can play [to help] the community.”

Julia also noted that the project, at its core, shows just what Athens is all about. 

“I feel like [the project] is really representative of our community. We have always stuck up for each other and acted at the local level to make sure everyone has what they need,” she said. “This just goes to show how much we care for each other and the effort we’re willing to put in for the safety of our community.”

That sense of community, and the desire to give back and be part of a solution, is a common theme that shows throughout the craft group.

“It is incredible that when we all work together, how much we can accomplish,” Lin said. “It’s the sense of community and taking care of each other that I believe will get us through this pandemic.” 

“It’s great to be part of a solution. I’ve heard from various people how uncomfortable the masks are. If [the ear savers] help, that’s great,” Ice said. “I think all of us that are involved are service-oriented people, and this is another way to help our communities.”