Current sailor, former teacher uses her unique skill set to make masks

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO — During the coronavirus pandemic many Chicagoans stepped up to help supply personal protection equipment to frontline workers. But one Hyde Park woman used her unique skill set as a retired teacher and sailor to help get thousands of mask to those in need.

Leslie Travis is an avid sailor. But she never thought her sailing skills would come into play during this COVID-19 pandemic. She was already adept at sewing to mend tears in the sails on her boat. She says every good sailor knows how to sew.

So when the virus hit Chicago last March her friends in the medical field turned to the mariner for help.  

Travis began making, on average, 10 to 15 masks a day. But quickly the demand outweighed the supply.  

“And I thought, ‘Okay, maybe if we’re going to need a whole lot of these things, I should figure out what is the most efficient way for me to use my time to get a lot of masks into circulation.’”

So the retired grade school teacher drew on her teaching skills and created a do-it-yourself mask kit with precut fabric, instructions and even a thank you card.

Travis called in reinforcements, including her sail maker. 

“They have been cutting five hours a day, five days a week for free, cutting fabric that my neighbors donated,” Travis said.

In just six weeks she was able to distribute enough kits to sew over 4000 masks.  She keeps a list of those still in need.  She’s donated her kits to numerous agencies including hospitals and food pantries. 

She keeps the supply chain moving by posting daily on Facebook and other social platforms asking for donations.    

Travis’s front porch in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood is the  headquarters for this massive mask operation.  It is where all donations are left and where other sewers can pick up supplies. 

“I would say response has been very good,” she said. “And it’s all been with materials donated by neighborhood people. And it’s all been sewn by Chicago neighborhood people.”

And she’s proud of her community coming together and making this work. 

“I have a production system, I’ve got my people,” she said.  “My community is working. We are working together. We are sharing resources with each other.”

Leslie Travis is one of Chicago’s Very Own. 

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