Neighborhood heroes donating their time and talents in time of need

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

Modern day Rosie the Riveters are rising up across America in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19). During World War II, Rosie represented women who went into the factories and shipyards to help the country win the war. Here in the 21st century, there is a new war being waged against an invisible enemy with the frontline being in hospitals, assisted living facilities, adult foster care homes — anywhere where a health care-worker puts his or her life on the line every day.

However, it’s a battle being fought without all the tools as there is a shortage of surgical masks and ventilators in the nation. Corporate America has been requested to shift its production to make needed ventilators, if companies had not done it voluntarily, while people in our own neighborhoods are feverishly making masks. It’s not just Rosies either because men have joined the battles behind the scenes.


JESS MAY of Posen has turned her living room/kitchen into a small factory, producing about 100 masks a day with assistance from family members.

That includes her nephew, Aiden May, 10, who came from a much-larger town in Tennessee, but needed a place to go while his single-father worked, school is still out and day care facilities are closed.

Jess has shipped masks to Hillsborough, North Carolina, Chicago, and other many locales, and all from her humble dwelling in Posen.

“I will send 100 masks and they will pay for the shipping and they will put an extra $50 in there to cover the supplies,” said Jess. The rest comes out of her own pocket. “I don’t mind giving up my time. My husband, John, said, ‘you have to do, what you have to do.’ ”

Supplies, especially the elastic that goes around the ears, has been hard to come by, but Jess found some on ebay and purchased it to keep the masks heading out the door.

Posen robotics’ Team 6077 put out a call on Facebook that it would purchase material for the masks for health care workers if someone was willing to make them.

 “Jess May answered that call and it turns out she has already been doing this,” said Posen lead mentor Brian Konieczny. 

STITCHES ETC. of Rogers City and others in the community have been doing their part as well. When Medilodge of Rogers City (RC) called to order 50, State Farm Insurance Agency owner Cory Budnik picked up the tab.

“These are washable, three-ply, cotton,” said Lois Watson, taking a moment from her sewing machine. 

“Today, we did 30 or 40,” said Jan Latz, a lifetime friend of Watson’s. “People are buying them for Medilodge.”

“St. Luke Episcopal Church is buying another 25, so they will get 75,” said Watson. “Rogers City has been phenomenal about volunteering and donating.”

Additionally, Stitches Etc. has been requested to retrofit gowns.

“They need to have cuffs put on so they can put gloves up over,” said Watson. “Since they are going to wear the gowns backwards, they have to have the neckline redone. That’s going to be our next project for Medilodge. I think we are going to do 41 of them.”

MEMBERS OF the Schalk family of Hawks working together for the common goal of producing face masks for health care workers. (Courtesy photo)

In Hawks, the Schalk family, that includes Jack and Marlene Schalk; Susan and Sydney Paull; Val Schalk; and Shelby Schwiesow; has made 700 plus masks.

“These are very rare times and I think most people have never felt this powerless,” said Schwiesow. “When you feel this way, you tend to look for ways to hang onto anything that you have control over and making the masks is an opportunity for our family to use our skills to help our medical professionals.

“The most we have made in one day is 14 d


Family members work on them for about four to five hours a day. The largest order, 18 dozen, went to McLaren Northern Michigan.

The family also has donated to Munson Medical Center, Medilodge (RC) and the Presque Isle County Food Pantry.

“A group from Royal Oak, a group from East Pointe, local health care groups and adult foster care homes, Compassionate Care and a number of individuals in our area,” added Schiewsow.

Additionally, LaFargeHolcim has donated N95 masks to health care workers at area northern Michigan Hospitals.

It’s clear that neighborhood heroes are working to try and cover the shortage. They have to be considered selfless actions in support of the people on the frontline, who are risking everything.