HOLTVILLE — The battle against the coronavirus has been called the latest global war, and similar to America’s “Greatest Generation,” Holtville’s American Legion auxiliary Unit 138 has responded in the spirit of Rosie the Riveter, icon of those on the assembly line in World War II defense plants.
Karen Gibbs, president of the Bradley-Keffer auxiliary Unit 138, has had her Singer sewing machine more than 40 years, but recently used it mainly for small mending work.
On April 16 and 17, though, she produced 20 masks for the Imperial County Emergency Operation Center.
“I think it’s wonderful to sew for the county and we (Unit 138) feel good to know we’re helping donate masks for those in need,” said Gibbs. “It was hard at first to feed the elastic through the material, but it’s easy once I got the hang of it. I now finish in 15 minutes. I use a zig-zag stitch, so the elastic won’t get loose. And we pleat (fan shape) them so they fold out over the entire face.”
Gibbs’ mother, also her 4-H leader in grammar school, taught her to sew so well that Gibbs won a 4-H first-place ribbon for a skirt she produced.
On April 17, Gibbs and fellow Unit 138 members Hellen Wilson and Sarah Tumbaga brought a total of 41 completed masks to American Legion Post 138 and another 15 are ready for delivery from Brandy Butler, as Molly Estrada and Joan Carey assisted with cutting mask materials donated by Angie Garcia, which were all turned over to Bob Candland.
Candland, a member of the Imperial Valley Patriotic Planning Committee, is liaison among the county EOC and the Boyce Aten American Legion Post 25 in El Centro.
“We are the interface between the people who make the masks and the end users,” said Candland. “People can drop them off or mask materials at Post 25 (569 Broadway, El Centro) Monday through Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. … We give them to John Gay (Imperial County Public Works director) at the Imperial County EOC so any agency who needs masks can arrange through John to receive them.”
Wilson had diligently worked on her masks the prior three days.
“They’re done by hand,” she said. “I was a middle daughter and I got a lot of hand-me-downs, so you appreciate what you can get. My mother made some of my clothes. But then she taught me to sew and I learned to enjoy sewing by hand.”
Tumbaga has been a Unit 138 member for just one year, yet when Gibbs asked her to pitch in with the masks she stepped up to the plate.
“I was already making masks for my family,” she recalled. “My husband, Greg, drives a truck for Havens & Sons. But I know people hardly ever sew anymore. But I thought, I could make masks for Imperial County.”
Operation Victory Virus, which Post 25 conceived, aims to produce 1,000 masks, Candland said.
The American Legion is based on four pillars, and one of them is to take care of the community, he explained. Candland added that the Post 25 Disaster Preparedness and Response Team was activated in light of the coronavirus.
“I have a saddle company which still has a 1946 stitching machine, and 12 volunteers are using it to make masks now, and we also have a team to wash and iron material to produce the masks,” he said. “The people of the county didn’t bat an eye and went right to work. There are multiple groups working on their own. This is a hometown effort with great people working for everybody.”
Meanwhile, the masks are made to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Gibbs downloaded the face mask tutorial from the CDC website to her smart phone.
“When my daughter, Misty, heard about the masks, she told me, ‘the home-made masks are awesome; I’m so proud of you,’” Gibbs recalled. “I taught her and my daughter, Carrie, to sew.”
Gibbs said she is a bit stressed from the sheltering-in-place orders and regrets not being able to get together with other auxiliary members. They already canceled their April auxiliary meeting.
“And we missed taking Easter baskets to the Valley Blossom Inn veterans,” she said. “We just lost Alejandro Cota and Ron Hennessey, so were down to five.” Also of vital importance is Poppy Month that occurs every May. American Legion auxiliaries across the U.S. produce red crepe-paper poppies for sale, a reminder of major combat operations in the Flanders poppy fields during World War I. In 1921 the auxiliary initiated the program to help the disabled and hospitalized veterans. This year they may have to rely on U.S. Post Office deliveries to fund-raise.
This story is featured in the April 23, 2020 e-Edition.