When Darnell Hookano was a little girl, she would sit and watch her mother sew—and memorize her every move. Later, while her mother was at work, Hookano would covertly use her sewing machine. Today, those secretive sewing sessions are coming in handy.

Since late March, Hookano, a branch manager and escrow officer with Old Republic Title Company, has been sewing protective face masks and giving them to anyone who needs one. At first, she only had enough elastic to make 10, but after hunting down more elastic online, she’s been churning out masks by the dozens. “Since the first weekend I think I’ve sewed about 200,” she said. “Currently, I work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, then I go home and sew from 6 to 11 p.m. and again for an hour in the morning. I am averaging about 25 to 30 a day now.”

For Hookano, it’s more than a volunteer project—it’s deeply personal. In 2018, her husband died of acute myeloid leukemia. He had received treatments on Oahu, which meant he had to fly interisland. “We tried to get him on early and less crowded flights because we knew his immune system was shot,” she said. “The goal was to get him home without getting him infected. He ended up dying of septic shock from an infection, something he picked up when he was at his weakest.”

Out of concern for those with compromised immune systems, Hookano started sewing and handing out masks at no charge. “I can only imagine the fear and concern they must be feeling because of this virus. I had to do something to help protect them,” she said. “I figured if I can provide my family and friends with masks, I can help protect those weakened by chemo and other diseases. I can help stop the spread and flatten the curve here on Maui and elsewhere. So I guess you can say my husband and his fight with cancer inspired me to help others. I even made him a mask and put it on his picture.”

Like Hookano, Melissa Zupner Montgomery of Wailea Realty Corp. + Windermere Real Estate has used her sewing skills to help keep others safe. Three weeks ago, she decided to make good use of the unexpected downtime and sew a quilt for a family member. But a news story about volunteers making medical-grade masks for essential workers inspired her to tackle a different project. “After seeing the newscast, I redirected to making masks, thinking I would make a few for friends and family,” she said. “It’s a pretty simple process—there are numerous how-to videos out there. However, the supply of elastic is very low, so I made as many as I could. Luckily my mom found some more elastic so I have several more yards that will make about 20 more masks. I am just giving them away to whoever needs them.”

Marilyn Griffin of Island Sotheby’s International Realty knows firsthand the vital importance of personal protective equipment (PPE). She’s a former emergency room nurse and has three loved ones currently working on the front lines. That’s why she started making masks at her dining room table two weeks ago. “It’s a way of helping where I can now,” she said. “I have sewn since I was 11 years old. I’ve never made a face mask and quite honestly never thought I’d need to. I worked through a few prototypes to get the one I though was most effective for no air gaps. I’ve made a couple dozen so far.”

Griffin encourages others to contribute to the effort, either by sewing masks or donating materials to the many individuals and groups who are leading the charge. If you are able, she said, “Please sew. Give them to elderly neighbors, people with no masks at the store, friends who don’t sew, police officers, hospital workers, or family members of hospice patients who need masks so they can be near their loved ones.”

And they don’t have to be fashionable—just functional. “Everyone should have at least one washable mask right now,” Griffin said. “There is such a demand and if everyone does even a little, it adds up. We have a responsibility to protect our children, elders and each other in this time of need.”

The Maui News – April 20, 2020

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