La PORTE — A shop that usually offers colorful dresses, glittering bows and vibrant accessories has, over the past several days, been busy making a different kind of product.

Protective masks, to be precise.

Owner Patti Pierson and her team at The Pink Sheep Boutique have been sewing fabric face coverings to give to local health care workers and first responders, who are facing shortages of critical safety gear due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The Pink Sheep staff has cranked out nearly 150 of the protective items since Thursday, and distributed them to agencies such as the La Porte Fire Department, Pierson said.

Pierson – who has operated her boutique at 507 Lincoln Way since August – began working on the masks following a poignant call with her sister, Casey Hahney, a respiratory therapist at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago.

Hahney tearfully asked Pierson if she would be able to help her and her co-workers out after they learned they would only be provided a single respirator mask due to current shortages.

“If they lost it, they were out of luck,” Pierson said.

The business owner immediately went to work. After finding a pattern for fabric respirator masks, Pierson began “sewing until [her] fingers fell off,” making an initial batch of 22 for her sister and her co-workers, followed by another 24.

Finding materials for the masks wasn’t a challenge, fortunately.

Pierson has been collecting decorative fabric since opening her business eight years ago, with an entire storeroom in dedicated to her stash.

To help brighten the spirits of the medical workers – and the patients they serve – during these dark and uncertain times, Pierson decided to pick out a light-hearted print for the masks – depicting characters from the 1990s slapstick children’s cartoon, “Ren and Stimpy.”

“Even if it’s something as simple as a cartoon cat’s butt – if that makes someone smile, let’s do it,” she joked.

Pierson, who has been sewing for nearly 25 years, quickly gained help as she began making more masks to donate to others in the region.

Her husband, Keith, and social media manager, Falishia Wind, are helping cut fabric for the project. Helping her sew are fellow clothing shop owners Sandra Grimm of Patched Perfect, and Amanda Moore of Miss Fernie Fox, as well as one of Pierson’s regular customers, Brittany Grimes.

The team is spending upward of 16 hours a day making masks, working to fulfill the more than 200 requests they’ve gotten from nurses, therapists and other medical professionals, Pierson said.

Although the fabric masks aren’t the perfect replacement for N95s or other manufactured respirators, they provide better protection than a bandanna, scarf or similar makeshift mouth covering, Pierson said.

She’s even heard stories of desperate nurses making coverings from vacuum bags and pipe cleaners – something she wants to spare local health care workers from resorting to, she said.

“For them to step up and do their job, even without the required supplies, is so commendable, so awesome,” she said. “They are the reason we are doing this.”

Pierson is also supporting local first responders. She already donated enough masks for each of La Porte’s firefighters – 45 in total – and is planning to give some to La Porte County EMS crews, she said.

One issue the team is running into, though, is a shortage of elastic bands, Pierson said. Though she has enough fabric to sew “a million” masks, the shop only has enough elastic to make around 50 more, she said.

Those who wish to donate materials, or pitch in with making masks, are encouraged to reach out to Pierson at 219-888-8089 or facebook.com/thepin ksheep103.

“They don’t even need to know how to sew,” she said. “If they can cut or trace, that will be a huge help.”

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