It all started when members of Northrop Grumman’s FabLabs began recognizing a standout need within their own communities....
Sewing with Purpose
Northrop Grumman employees, many of whom are creatives and enjoy making things with their hands both at home as well as at work, routinely use their innovative thinking and resourcefulness to solve unique problems. And now, they’re using their creativity for a greater good — one stitch at a time.
Sewing enthusiasts from across the company are turning to their sewing machines to make an impact on the COVID-19 pandemic, creating cloth face masks for both local healthcare workers and fellow employees who are supporting vital national security programs at Northrop Grumman facilities.
“It’s hard. You watch the news and see all these caregivers risking their lives, and they don’t have the equipment they need,” explained Pam Ildefonso, a program manager in Maryland, referring to the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage facing healthcare workers throughout the United States.
Pam, who’s been with the company for 40 years, has been sewing since she was 9 years old. She turned her focus to cloth masks to support the COVID-19 containment efforts along with her daughter after hearing about the ongoing PPE needs. Healthcare workers can wear homemade masks over their medical-grade N95 masks; it helps the N95s to last longer so that they can avoid changing them throughout a shift. Pam and her daughter used patterns posted online that had been requested by hospitals and cotton fabric found around their homes.
In just two weekends, Pam sewed 60 masks. After a brief interruption due to limited availability of elastic (used for the mask ear loops), that number has nearly doubled. She donated most to healthcare workers in her local area, at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, as well as the engineers she works alongside in classified areas of Northrop Grumman facilities.
But being an avid sewist isn’t necessarily a requirement for making homemade masks.
Mike Larsen, a lead physicist for quantum sensors in Woodland Hills, California, enlisted his family’s help to sew face coverings to protect their local community. With his wife at the helm handling the sewing machine, he and his two young sons have formed an assembly line to create masks each evening. They’ve made nearly 300 so far, which they’ve donated to healthcare workers at two local hospitals and employees of a nearby food pantry.
Madeleine Low, director of Programs at the Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence in Melbourne, Florida, worked to get mask “kits” built for her teammates who support essential programs that require onsite work. The kits contained the key ingredients for making a homemade face covering: fabric and twill or bias tape, as well as recommended directions. So far, 2,000 kits have been distributed to teams in Melbourne as well as Southern California. The kits’ fabric selections were coordinated so team members would have masks in the same bright, fun patterns.
Over in Aurora, Colorado, Payload and Ground Systems Central Region Software and Digital Engineering lead Monica Calcott dusted off her sewing machine to sew masks for her colleagues onsite in the hopes of creating some comfort in a time of great uncertainty.
“I don’t sew a whole lot — I sew with purpose,” said Monica.
At the end of March, she launched Operation Cover-Up in Aurora, with the intent to support the employees at her Northrop Grumman worksite by providing access to homemade face coverings. Fellow team members have pitched in by sewing as well as donating fabric and other supplies. They’ve created more than 200 cloth masks so far, with 300 more in process.
Every homemade mask is packaged with a personal note that includes directions for washing and an inspirational quote from a local company leader.
Noted Monica, “At the end of the day, sometimes it’s the little things that make an enormous difference.”