La PORTE — Though the shop usually offers colorful dresses, glittering bows and other vibrant children’s clothing and accessories, over the past several days, the staff of La Porte’s The Pink Sheep Boutique have been busy making a different kind of product.

Protective masks, to be precise.

Over the past five days, owner Patti Pierson and her team have been hard at work, sewing fabric face coverings to give to local health care workers and first responders who are facing shortages of critical safety gear due to ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The Pink Sheep staff has cranked out nearly 150 of the protective items since Thursday, which they have distributed to agencies such as the La Porte Fire Department, Pierson said.

Pierson – who has operated her 8-year-old boutique out of her storefront at 507 Lincoln Way since August – began working on the masks following a poignant phone call with her sister, Casey Hahney, a respiratory therapist with St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago.

Hahney tearfully asked Pierson if she would be able to help her and her co-workers out after they learned they would only be provided a single respirator mask due to current shortages.

“If they lost it, they were out of luck,” Pierson said.

The business owner immediately went to work. After finding a pattern for fabric respirator masks, Pierson began “sewing until [her] fingers fell off,” making an initial batch of 22 for her sister and her compatriots, followed by another 24.

Finding materials for the masks wasn’t a challenge, fortunately.

Pierson has been collecting decorative fabric since opening her business eight years ago, with an entire storeroom in her shop dedicated to her stash. To help brighten the spirits of the medical workers – and the patients they are working with – during these dark and uncertain times, Pierson decided to pick out a light-hearted print for the masks – depicting characters from the 1990s slapstick children’s cartoon, “Ren and Stimpy.”

“Even it’s something as simple as a cartoon’s cat butt – if that makes someone smile, let’s do it,” she joked.

Pierson, who has been sewing for nearly 25 years, quickly gained some help as she began making more masks to donate to others in the region.

Her husband, Keith, and her company’s social media manager, Falishia Wind, are helping Pierson cut fabric for the project. Helping her sew are fellow clothing shop owners Sandra Grimm, with Patched Perfect, and Amanda Moore, with Miss Fernie Fox, as well as one of Pierson’s regular customers, Brittany Grimes.

The team is spending upward of 16 hours a day making the masks, working to fulfill the more than 200 requests they’ve gotten from nurses, therapists and other medical professionals, Pierson said.

Although the fabric masks aren’t the perfect replacement for N95s or other manufactured respirators, they provide better protection than a bandanna, scarf or a similar makeshift mouth covering, Pierson said. The shop owner said she’s even heard stories of desperate nurses making coverings from vacuum bags and pipe cleaners – something she wants to spare local health care workers from resorting to, she said.

“For them to step up and do their job, even without the required supplies, is so commendable, so awesome,” she said. “They are the reason we are doing this.”

Pierson is also supporting local first responders. She already donated enough masks for each of La Porte’s firefighters – 45 in total – and is planning to give some to the county EMS department, she said.

One issue the team is running into, though, is a shortage of elastic bands, Pierson said. Though she has enough fabric to sew “a million” masks, the shop only has enough elastic to make around 50 more, she said.

Those who wish to donate these materials, or who wish to pitch in with making the masks, are encouraged to reach out to Pierson at (219) 888-8089 or on her Facebook page, facebook.com/thepinksheep103.

“They don’t even need to know how to sew,” she said. “If they can cut or trace, that will be a huge help.”

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