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Going undercover

June 2, 2020

Charlestown volunteers sew more than 800 homemade face masks during coronavirus pandemic

Studies have shown that helping others gives us a sense of purpose, reduces stress, leads to lower rates of depression, and can even help relieve pain from chronic illness.

It may also help to explain why in late April, after four weeks of social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, Rita Tschiffely was still in such good spirits. Rita, who was riding out the stay-at-home order safely in her apartment at Charlestown, a continuing care retirement community managed by Erickson Living, decided to dedicate a portion of each day to making protective face masks for Charlestown's residents and staff.

"I'm a quilter and have been sewing all my life," says Rita, who moved to Charlestown from Elkridge, Md., in 2014. "I started making face masks for my daughter who is a registered dietitian in Delaware. When they put out a call here on campus for the need for masks, I volunteered to help."

Throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people cover their nose and mouth when in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. In Maryland, face coverings are required to enter retail stores or ride public transportation.  

Sew easy

About 40 Charlestown residents, including Rita, made more than 800 masks that were donated to various local organizations including, Saint Agnes Hospital, Gilchrist Hospice Care, and the University of Maryland Child Development Center. Rita says it was important for her to feel like she was doing something valuable with her time while she was stuck at home.  

"I've been very active since I moved to Charlestown. I'm normally out of my house every day. So, when the coronavirus hit, it was a bit of a lifestyle change. The masks were fun to make and actually weren't that difficult. It only took about 30 minutes per mask, from the moment I cut the fabric, to the moment I pressed it the final time and put it in the box to be delivered," says Rita.

Stephanie Knowles, volunteer program coordinator at Charlestown, delivered packets to the volunteers which included instructions, a pattern, and fabric.

"During the stay-at-home order, many of our volunteers felt a loss of being able to serve," says Knowles. "We have a lot of very talented sewers and quilters at Charlestown and we were looking for some at-home volunteer opportunities for our residents during the pandemic. I knew we would get a good response, but I was humbled by the number of volunteers who offered to help and the amount of time they spent sewing masks."

Once volunteers completed a batch of masks, Charlestown staff collected, sorted, and prepared the masks for distribution.

"Our residents inspire me daily with their selfless acts," says Knowles. "They see a need and they take the time to fill it, no matter how small or big the task is. The staff at Charlestown loved the masks. It not only saved them money, but it also made them feel appreciated."

Mask-making mission

Fellow sewer Barbara Wallace, a member of Charlestown's quilting group, was happy to put her sewing skills to good use making masks.  

"I usually make baby quilts for Project Linus or for Charlestown's Christmas Craft sale to benefit the community's Benevolent Care Fund," says Barbara. "When the coronavirus started, I began making masks for my husband and myself, then I mailed masks out to my daughters and their families. When I heard that they needed volunteers to make masks for people in the community I thought, 'well I have a lot of fabric,' so I started making masks for whoever needed them."

The second bedroom in Barbara's two-bedroom apartment doubles as her sewing room, where she spent two to three hours each day making masks.

"Getting them ready to sew took the most time. I would get all of the fabric cut first and then cut the ties before I began sewing and assembling them," says Barbara.

July marks 14 months since Barbara and her husband moved to Charlestown. Being asked to shelter in her apartment wasn't exactly how she pictured her life at Charlestown, but she says during a pandemic there's no better place she would rather be.

"I said to my husband, 'thank God we moved here when we did!" says Barbara. "Charlestown was proactive through the whole ordeal and kept us informed. They delivered meals to our apartment. We felt very safe. We are so happy we moved here!"  

To learn more about Charlestown, please visit or call 410-504-6870.

About Charlestown: Charlestown, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 110-acre campus in Catonsville, Maryland. The community is located in Baltimore County and is home to more than 2,000 residents who are supported by a team of more than 1,200 employees. Additional information about Charlestown can be found at

Photo courtesy of Charlestown

Photo Caption: Volunteers at Charlestown made over 800 face masks for neighbors, staff, and local organizations during the coronavirus pandemic.