Today, GraceConnect introduces a new feature, Faces of Grace. We want to tell the stories of the people in Charis Fellowship churches who are being the hands and feet of Jesus through acts of service, particularly through the Coronavirus pandemic. Watch for original stories to be regularly posted.
Ann Sweet admits she hadn’t used her 55-year-old sewing machine for more than 20 years when she started making cloth masks to meet a need in her community due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But her passion for helping others caused her to dust off her machine and start sewing. That has led to nearly 2,000 masks that have been distributed in the Warsaw and Winona Lake, Ind., communities.
She started making a few masks for the local sheltered workshop. Then friends discovered what she was doing and asked her to make some for their personal use. Warsaw mayor, Joe Thallemer, a former neighbor, enquired if she’d make masks for the workers in city departments. She complied on all accounts.
About the same time, Dave Rank, pastor of community impact at Winona Lake, Ind., Grace Brethren Church (WLGBC), discovered her efforts. Soon she was not only sewing but was coordinating an effort among about 30 women and men, mostly from the church, to provide cloth masks for local businesses, community organizations, health care facilities, and retirement homes, including Grace Village Retirement Community.
“Ann is very connected to people throughout Warsaw/Winona Lake,” says Dave. “Those connections have led word-of-mouth among those connections about the need for masks – and the mask sewing ministry at WL.”
“God’s grace is amazing,” says Ann, who has attended the church for about 30 years. She said that just when she thinks they have run out of materials, more appears. Mudlove, the ceramics studio known for its inspirational bands, provided elastic cord. Church members donated fabric. After she broke her last sewing machine needle, Lowery’s Sewing Center owner Adam Harmon (who also attends WLGBC) opened on a Sunday afternoon so she could replenish her supply. Contributions to the church’s Care Fund have covered other expenses.
Then the Warsaw mayor called again. “He asked us to provide 200 masks a week for the foreseeable future,” she said. These are being distributed at local fire stations at no charge to area residents. The first day, she delivered 200 masks at 10 o’clock in the morning. “They were all gone by 3,” she remembers, “and they asked for more. We will get caught up,” she adds resolutely.
“I come from a family that always did things for other people,” Ann remembers. “We were poor, if somebody needed something, we did something.” While she found that wasn’t always so in the real world, she’s been a tireless advocate for the less fortunate. She’s worked with the Red Cross and World Compassion Network, both which she considers “very practical organizations.”
Tireless at the age of 73, she doesn’t plan to stop making masks.
“I’m planning to work all summer at this,” she says, with an eye to an expected recurrence of the virus later this year. “When we get all caught up and everybody has a mask, we’re still going to make them for Fall.”
“I’m healthy. My family is healthy. God gives us one chance each day and we need to live that in service with whatever talents we have,” she stresses. “If nobody was helping me, I would still try my best and pass out as many [masks] as I could.”