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From the heart through the hands; crafting face masks for Shelter Island

The new normal that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on almost everyone also applies to Islander Susan Schrott. But she’s added another task to a full at-home schedule.

The licensed clinical social worker works with her clients all day via teleconferences.

But after the evening meal is finished and dishes done, Ms. Schrott has more work to do. She goes to her studio — she’s an accomplished textile artist — which she’s transformed into a space to create face masks, free of charge, for the community. Most nights it’s only around 11 p.m. or midnight that her day is done.

“I’m up to more than 800 masks so far,” she said since Shelter Island residents went into isolation.

The masks have gone to the Senior Center, the Senior Nutrition Program at the Presbyterian Church, South Ferry employees, IGA volunteers outside the store and store employees, to individual Islanders and to hospitals in the region.

Working with her are a core of other volunteers who help sew the masks and distribute them around the Island or take them to the Post Offices to be mailed out. A supply of masks is on a table in front of her home — “marked with a little elephant” — on Shelterlands Path for pickup by volunteers to deliver, and post to other locations or for anyone who needs one.

As Ms. Schrott has said, the homemade protective masks are not a substitute for medical-grade protection. “This pattern and material are the best I can find right now, and is community-based harm-reduction at best.”

When it became apparent that the pandemic had struck with most communities left under-prepared for even minimal protective equipment, Ms. Schrott decided to use her skills and connections to do something to help. “A friend of mine has a fabric store in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., where I used to live, and I’ve been buying yarn and material from her for 30 years,” Ms. Schrott said.

Soon the Mt. Kisco-Shelter Island pipeline started delivering materials.

She mentioned several Islanders who helped sew, cut fabric and distribute the masks, including Lynne Colligan, Elizabeth Eklund, Marianne DiOrio, Nancy Walker, Kate Davidson, Gwen Casey and Stephanie Needham.

The volunteers, are of course, not paid, except for one — sort of. “I bake challah every Friday and give some to Stephen Jacobs, who takes masks to the post office to mail,” she said.

Susan Schrott with her one of her textile art pieces. (Credit: Reporter file photo)

COVID-19 has come dangerously close to Ms. Schrott and her family. Her daughter Elizabeth’s husband, New York City-based physician Dr. Adam Abel, contracted the virus while treating patients. He’s been in isolation, so Elizabeth has sheltered on the Island with her mother.

Ms. Schrott said she acquired a true sense of social responsibility when her own children, Elizabeth and Rose, who is a graduate student studying environmental science at Duke University, were growing up, to set an example for them.

“I’m making masks because I’m an artist, a therapist, a human being and Jewish,” she said, noting that her faith — “and all other religions” — support the practice charity. “I express what’s in my heart through my hands. I make them and they’re gone, and we’ve all made a human connection.”