U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) held a call in late May to recognize the mask-sewing efforts of Women Working Behind the Scenes.
Women Working Behind the Scenes is a group of women in the Lebanon area who sew masks for those in the community who need them. The group is co-chaired by Sharon Zook and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz (D), who were both on the call, along with fellow mask-producers Debra Tice and Missy Swoyer.
“It was a privilege [to be on the call],” said Swoyer. “Of course we didn’t do this to be recognized, but for Senator Casey to actually want to take his time and talk to us, it was a really great privilege to be able to be a part of it.”
When talking to Casey, the Lebanon County volunteers “provided an overview of and shared their excitement to be able to share a little of their kindness to help others,” according to Casey’s press secretary Natalie Adams. Much of the call revolved around the women telling their stories.
One such story was that of Swoyer’s involvement in the group. Before joining the effort, she had very little sewing experience. Upon hearing about the need for masks, she learned how to sew from her mother-in-law, Brenda Light, so that she could help the community.
“I’m one of those very strong Christians and I very much believe that God puts us here to be his hand and I may not be the greatest sewer but I’m willing to do what I can do,” said Swoyer. “I just wanted to do it because there was a need and I think we’re called here to help one another.”
After seeing her start sewing, Swoyer’s family wanted to get involved. Her 16-year-old daughter, Makayla, and 10-year-old son, Carter cut elastic and helped sew the straight lines, and her husband, Dennis, cut out patterns and helped make ties.
“The whole family ended up being involved at one time and took an interest,” said Swoyer. “It was just so heartwarming to me that something that seems so basic turned into being something that we’re going to have memories of the rest of our lives.
“Through this pandemic, we were all God’s hands, sewing for the community and we all got to do it as a family.”
After the women shared their stories, Casey congratulated them and commended their efforts to provide masks to those who needed them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He was just so gracious and so kind,” said Litz. “It was an amazing phone call and how uplifting to everyone [for him to call].”
To organize the call, Litz was contacted by Adams asking if they would be willing to receive a call from Casey himself and if they could get some women together to join the call.
“It was exciting,” said Swoyer. “I was glad to see that outside of Lebanon County, people were excited about what we are doing.”
Whenever the mask-sewers reach a milestone number of masks, they celebrate that progress and try to give the milestone mask to someone special. Litz gave her 500th mask to Justin Snyder, creator of Lebanon County Weather, and, following the call, she decided to give her 1000th mask to Casey.
Soon after she made this decision, Litz found out that Casey had recently tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and plans to donate his plasma to help COVID-19 research.
“I had no idea how memorable it would be [giving Casey the 1000th mask] finding out that he actually had [the] coronavirus,” said Litz. “And then it hit me that he was just so passionate. No wonder, he has a personal experience that is driving his thought process.
“I think it’s wonderful that he is using it to do something positive and not letting it drag him down. I don’t have enough words to say how impressed and grateful I am.”
So far, Women Working Behind the Scenes has sewn over 8,000 masks. 24 women in the group have sewn at least 100 masks and four women, including Litz and Zook, have sewn over 1,000.
“The whole group, the way it was ignited by a process between Sharon and Jo Ellen and just flourished, it’s amazing,” said Swoyer.
As the need for masks slows, Women Working Behind the Scenes has moved away from community giveaways, instead of focusing only on requests. A few organizations who are reopening or planning to, such as churches and municipalities, have asked the group to supply masks for their employees and patrons, and the sewers are working to meet those requests.
“We did not expect everything positive that came from us sewing masks,” said Litz. “We just did it because we wanted to help and this was a way we could help.”