Masks in their most literal sense,  hide our faces from the world. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, masks and those who have taken it upon themselves to create them have shown us their true faces: steady in the face of the unknown, innovative even with minimal resources and selfless contributors to our community.

In many ways, this unprecedented moment in time has brought us back to simpler ways of life. Having to be self-reliant in a world where we are so used to quick fixes has seen us reaching for puzzles instead of video games or home-cooked meals instead of takeout. In this instance, it has seen Sarasotans reaching for their sewing machines instead of checking out an online shopping cart. The ability to thread a needle has taken on a serious tone much different than the fun hobby it is usually reserved for. Costume makers for the theater, quilt makers, even retired fashion designers and real estate agents have banded together to meet the seemingly never-ending demand for face masks. 

Between them, the companies and individuals featured in this edition of SRQ have distributed thousands of masks to over 30-plus local organizations, some even helping out nationally. Sheriff’s departments, hospitals and nursing homes have seen hundreds of masks donated from the hands of these altruistic artisans, and retail stores have been able to stock their shelves with a product they know is making a difference. Now a required accessory in the ever-changing “new” normal of our daily lives, these efforts to hand-sew medical-grade face masks for Sarasota and Manatee counties deserve to be applauded. 


In their efforts to protect frontline health care workers and patients, the Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab launched a community COVID-19 Face Mask & Shield Project in March. This huge undertaking has needed the help of over 250 volunteers, including a research and development team to make the masks as beneficial as possible. So far, more than 2,000 medical-grade face masks and face shields have been distributed, helping to provide much-needed protection to our local health care heroes that are risking their lives daily for the well-being and safety of the community. To date, dedicated volunteers have produced over 2,600 face masks and shields for 30 facilities. Recipients include the Lung Associates of Sarasota, 21st Century Oncology, Sunnyside Village, Boys & Girls Clubs First Responders Program, First Step of Sarasota, Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Homes, and many more.  Claire, An 18-year-old volunteers says, “Adaptability is putting aside my worries about finishing my last semester of high school online and preparing for an unknown first semester of college to make face shields for doctors and nurses who are saving the lives of people just like me.” For the latest COVID-19 Project information, visit


Local activewear label Yummy & Trendy creates premium-quality active wear out of high-performance fabrics, made in the U.S.A. The brand aims to combine fitness and fashion designs, and now they’ve added safety with style. Due to the short supply and even higher demand for personal protective equipment, Yummy & Trendy designed fashion-forward masks for Sarasotans to go about their daily errands protected, comfortable and mindful of those at a higher risk of infection. Yummy & Trendy shows you can be safe and stylish. “The response has been quite positive,” says founder and CEO Veronica Rosas.  “Some masks are being coordinated with outfits and occasions. People are trendy, funny or serious and they are expressing themselves through their own personal choice.” Adaptability is “repurposing the materials from our production line to produce face masks that are scarce and in high demand.” 242 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota;


Former punk-inspired fashion designer Nicole Malabot has picked up her sewing machine again to create face masks out of long-forgotten fabric stored in her garage. Her masks also feature an added layer of protection, as she obtained Halyard H600 medical-grade fabric to sew in as added filtration. Inspired to act by her sister who is a trauma nurse, Nicole has created over 400 masks for both children and adults. Donating to women’s shelters, personally to people with health issues and healthcare workers, you can find Nicole’s masks for sale at her and her husband’s food truck around town, Mouthhole BBQ.   “Resiliency is being able to continue on with your life even though there are no guarantees of what will happen,” says Nicole Malabot. “We’ve worked hard these past two months with our BBQ business and making masks. I shop three to four days a week, so I’m constantly out there. There are times when I’ve broken down in my truck realizing the gravity of our situation. But I put on a straight face and do what needs to be done in order for us to move forward. It’s worth everything to be able to provide a home-cooked meal to our customers and to make masks that will provide some level of protection. It’s what we do. We move forward.” 


It’s no surprise that a group dedicated to their love of sewing and fabric took it upon themselves to start making masks when they noticed a need. The South Sarasota Modern Quilt Guild has so far delivered close to 250 masks to different hospice centers, surgical groups and nursing homes. The cloth masks for health care workers are to wear on top of their N95 masks in efforts to help extend the life of the disposable ones at a time when they are being asked to reuse masks. Each mask takes about 15 to 20 minutes to make, and sewers have been using “fun, colorful fabrics for the masks, in hopes of lifting people’s spirits during tough times.” When Co-Vice President Peg Normandin dropped off masks to an assisted living facility, she selected the most cheerful and happy patterns, to “add a little bit of sunshine.” Peg says, “I could not have imagined in early March when I suggested our quilt guild start making masks for health care workers the need would reach what it has been. Approximately 25 active sewists in the guild began making masks. As the needs exceeded what we could make, I reached out to my neighbors at Sarasota National to help. About 25 neighbors dusted off their sewing machines and many others helped us with generous donations of fabric and elastic to keep us all sewing.” Strength is believing always in the glass half-full. Never waver from the belief in positive outcomes. These are challenging times, but if we focus on what we can do, we will each continue to grow an inner strength to weather any storm our future sends us with the belief I can do this.


Sarasota luxury label BSWANKY is “rooted in the purpose-driven goal that all roads lead to being the difference.” From their transformational, groundbreaking designs to giving back product lines, every step in the process of handcrafting handbags is constructed for a higher purpose. From using existing or donated material, even fashioning plain masks out of Target bed sheets for the County Sheriff’s office, BSWANKY seamstresses used their time away from making designer handbags to creating life-saving
fashion: masks. “We have received letters and calls from Alabama, Arizona and even from Giovanna Pence at The White House thanking us for all we are doing for this country,” says founder Gretchen Bauer. Resiliency is “our team of seamstresses and myself working from our homes and one at a time in our design studio and atelier. We are pushing ourselves to defy the odds by becoming even more creative and daring and coming out of this launching a brand new product. Stay tuned!”


With its beloved season cut short, Asolo Repertory Theatre has wasted no time jumping to action. Using materials from their impressive collection of extra costume fabrics and scraps from productions. Costumers Teresa Consolvo, Laine Marr, Dee Sullivan, Jessica Hayes, Skyler Niedziela, Maureen Klein, June Elisabeth Taylor, Sofia Gonzalez, Kaitlin Jones and Deb Kelly have been creating masks from their home for the Sarasota and Manatee communities. So far, about 750 masks have been produced and distributed to organizations including: Goodwill Manasota, Senior Friendship Center, Safe Children Coalition, Meals on Wheels of Sarasota, Visible Men Academy, Girls Inc. of Sarasota County and ALSO Youth. From cutting to completion, each mask takes 25 to 30 minutes to make and each staff person is using CDC-approved patterns to build their masks. “The Asolo had a storehouse of fabrics left over from making costumes for the last 30 years or so,” says Costume Production Manager David Covach. “Since beginning this project, we have gone through about 500 yards of cotton fabrics and about 750 yards of elastic. But, more importantly, we have found a way to be of service to the community while regaining a sense of purpose for ourselves.” Local organizations in need of masks are asked to email


A family-owned business that participates and supports many local schools and special projects, Art and Frame hopes to “nurture and encourage artists of all ages.” In efforts to help slow the spread of the virus, and provide a needed product beyond their usual art inventory, they have partnered with local artists, including Chacha Plum’s Handmade with Love (shown above), Susan Bryden of Susan Sews and Emma Taylor Kaercher of Taylored Designs to create face masks.  “Kindness is contagious,” says Susan Bryden, one of the mask makers for Art and Frame. “I was able to help Gail Russon who lives in New York City. She was desperate to get a mask. Everyone in New York had to wear one to leave their apartment and she needed to go to the doctor. She ordered some that never came, so ended up calling Block Club News in Chicago for help. She talked to my daughter, who told her that I could make her one and got her address. I sent her one the next day. To my surprise, Gail called to thank me when she received it by tracing me through my return address. She ordered four more and we talked for about an hour. I found out we had much in common, like each becoming first-time grandmas this past year. We swapped pictures of our grandbabies and talked about how much we miss them. (We both missed their first birthday and them taking their first steps). She was very thankful and I tried to give her some hope that things will get better. I discovered you never know what a small act of kindness can lead to if you just look for the opportunity.” SRQ