Author: Jessica Manfre
The global COVID-19 pandemic has so far dominated the year 2020. The news cycle is filled with statistics, new restrictions, and a suffering economy. The current pandemic is also causing rising symptoms of depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. A few women decided to change that narrative. They are encouraging others to live in a space of purpose and love.
Victoria Griggs is an active duty Army spouse living in Seattle, Washington – the area of the United States first impacted by the pandemic. She shared that she has a son with a rare blood disorder which requires frequent hospital visits, despite the shelter in place order. Her mom lovingly made her family masks to utilize during their hospital trips. “I took a quick picture and made a Facebook post thanking my mom for the masks and sharing that more could be made for anyone in need. I never dreamed it would turn into what it did,” said Griggs.
Less than 24 hours later, she was fielding hundreds of requests for masks and offers to help make more. She quickly realized that there would need to be a team to make this work and a nonprofit would need to be formed. Marine spouse Jill Campbell and Army spouse Sophia Eng came on board. Then Becky Blank and Ruthi Nguyen, who are civilians, joined in too. All of them realized they had a unique opportunity to make a difference.
We Have Masks was live within weeks.
Once established as an official nonprofit, they began receiving monetary donations. All of the money raised goes right into the mask making. They are now supporting multiple groups throughout the country with supplies and shipping costs that are sewing masks. They have made over 7,000 masks to date thanks to the efforts of 400 sewers. We Have Masks also has a group volunteering their time working with 3D printers to make tools for mask makers. Every piece that put We Have Masks together is based on a shared devotion to serving others.
On the other side of the country, Megan Brown was doing the same thing.
Her mask making all started as a way to support her fellow Air Force families at her husband’s base in Georgia. Very quickly it morphed into sewing masks for military families and first responders all over the country. Brown was open in sharing that the original idea for Milspo Mask Makers was Sarah Mainwaring’s and she was “lovingly pushed” into doing it alongside her and then eventually leading the cause. They have now made 1,200 masks to date with no end in sight.
“We are challenging the military community to stand in the gap,” Brown said. She went on to explain that her deep faith pushed her to say yes to this. Brown also shared that she couldn’t just organize this, but believed deeply that she had to be making the masks as well. “True leaders do so from the front,” she said. Brown and all of the Milspo Mask Makers are challenging the military community to make 10,000 masks by the time GivingTuesdayNow rolls around on May 5th, 2020.
Back in Seattle, Griggs was watching Brown and her mask makers. She reached out to her on a whim to connect and tell her how much she admired what she was doing. They both discussed their deep desire to bring joy to those in need and a feeling of purpose to those lost. “This is one of the darkest times in our generation. We are all going through what is essentially a group trauma,” Brown shared. Through community building and serving, they both want to help heal that trauma.
So, they’ve joined forces.
We Have Masks will begin to utilize and adopt the hashtag, #MilSpoMaskMakers to help Brown monitor their targeted goal of 10,000 masks. They are actively seeking more people who are willing to sew and support the mask making efforts. Both women encouraged those who can sew to sign up and onboard through the We Have Masks website. Those in need of masks personally or for their community can also utilize the website to request masks. Those who are able to donate to the cause can safely give there as well.
“I can’t wait to model collaboration to this generation of military spouses. It’s about meeting the need together – publicly, lovingly, and well,” said Brown. Griggs echoed that sentiment, explaining that she feels this is such a great space to be in and truly feels like they are making a difference. Together.
In a world currently filled with scenes of loss and unknowns, there can also be deep love and purpose. All it takes is a willingness to serve and the belief in the power of community.
Be the change.
Gomolka shared that she researched the signs and symptoms heavily, watching closely for fever or any shortness of breath. When she started with a cough and headache, she didn’t initially think it could be COVID-19. A few days later, the fever and body aches came. “In that moment, you are kind of stuck between the place of fear and disbelief,” she said. Gomolka said she just knew she had it. She quarantined herself in a guest bedroom, praying she wouldn’t pass it to anyone else in her family. A call to the public health department gave her the verbal instructions of self quarantine and presumption of COVID-19 based on symptoms, but there was no test available to her due to being considered low risk, and lack of other comorbid conditions.
Gomolka wouldn’t get one, until she ended up in the emergency room.
“Getting up from the bed to walk into the kitchen is not usually challenging. With this, there was an air hunger. It became a conscious effort to breathe in and out all day long. The feeling that I could never get enough air was making me live right under the threshold of panic,” she shared. Gomolka finally went to the emergency room when breathing became even more difficult and was placed on oxygen for hours. It was there she received her Chest X-ray, CT scan and COVID test, which revealed she did in fact have the virus. Then her husband, who had just returned from a long deployment overseas, started getting sick too.
Their family was quickly and officially served with mandated home quarantine paperwork by their local sheriff’s office, unable to leave their home at all. Contracting this virus and bringing it home to her family -- her biggest fear -- could have caused despair. Instead, she found the beauty in it.
“It comes down to perspective….. to find the opportunities for beauty. You have to choose joy,” she shared. Gomolka shared that having time slow down for her family was a blessing. Relationships were strengthened and hearts were lifted. What could have been a time of anxiousness was an opportunity to reconnect and spend time in a space of gratefulness.
Gomolka also shared that initially she hesitated in going public with their diagnosis, wondering if people would respond in a negative way. The result was completely opposite of that. “We had an entire community, local and virtual of people who just rallied around us and lifted my family up,” she said.
“We are trying to figure out how we make that kind of difference in someone else’s life and come to their aid in a way that makes impactful change,” she said. One of the ways she’s going to do this, is to immediately go back to work treating patients with emergent conditions and skin cancer. She and her husband also signed up with the New York Blood Center, the American Red Cross, and Upstate University Hospital with the National Plasma Antibody project, hoping they can give their plasma for use in critically ill COVID19 patients. They also plan to try to complete errands and shopping for members of their community who are immunocompromised or elderly.
“We are always going to encounter challenges, but how do you respond to them? Find the good,” she said. She continued on saying that this experience has broadened her definition of what a hero is. “As a military family we tend to think of heroes as someone in a camouflage uniform, but that has changed for me,” she said. Gomolka explained that now, her version of a hero are the people who run towards danger while the rest of us “hunker down”. The grocery store workers, health care professionals, and deliverymen -- to name a few.
When asked what she would tell those reading this article, she smiled and shared that although she knows her diagnosis and experience is not the same as others, she wants people to know that together we can make it through anything. She implored people to “pause, and take it all in and find the beauty”.
Author: Jessica Manfre