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Izzie Biddle and Leslie Smith: Making masks to protect the community

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Isabela Biddle, 13, of Hughesville, left, and Leslie Smith of Williamsport used what materials they could find and made masks early in the COVID pandemic when masks were unavailable. Isabela worked from her home and Leslie worked from her studio at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic came lingering anxieties and fears about friends, family members and even the possibility of contracting the virus themselves.

Isabela “Izzie” Biddle, Hughesville student, and Leslie Smith, Pajama Factory sewist, made it their mission to make and distribute face masks to not only provide a Center for Disease Control-approved method of safety, but to also ease the anxiety and fear surrounding the virus.

The two separately made several hundred masks for community members, and even sent them to other states on the east coast.

“I was just trying to cover as many faces as possible,” Smith said.

“My mom and grandma work in health care,” Biddle said. “She (her grandma) brought up how health care workers were running low on masks. I have all of these supplies, I was like, ‘I could help.’ “

“As a dental hygienist for over 35 years I knew that the only thing between my patient and me were the barriers on my eyes and my mask,” Smith said. “My main role was to prevent disease.”

She continued by saying that she started making masks right at the beginning of the pandemic because of that prior knowledge of what masks can do to save a person’s life. It just so happened that she was also a sewist and had her own studio to construct the double layered cotton masks for friends, family and even some professionals in the health field to give to their patients.

“It is just what you do if you have something to give to the community, you just do it. I was driven,” she said.

Biddle, who had some prior knowledge and sewed as a hobby, took it upon herself to learn from a video and still to this day is making masks for people who can’t get them.

“The feeling of knowing that I got to help someone … it was nice,” she said. “It was a good feeling. It is also humbling to know the support that we had as well.”

Her mother, Rebecca Fogleman, also added that they had made over 1,200 masks so far.

“For five weeks straight we worked on those masks,” Fogleman said. “We work together on them, we set up three sewing machines and we had an assembly line going … If I could have taught her anything, it was to be kind. This is a true example of what kindness can do for others,” she said.

“I am so proud,” she continued. “As a mom, I am proud to know that she is able to sew and even use a home economics skill to help the community.”

Eric Mumma, owner of the Loyalsock Hotel, reached out to get masks for their employees and even those who came in for food and beverages.

“One of my employees knew them,” he said. “It was really nice of them. They did them so quick and we got them in a couple of days.”

He said that Izzie even designed them special for the bar and grill, using fonts and logos from foods and beers.

Each Loyalsock Hotel employee had them, and Mumma also got extras for customers to have.

“They (Izzie and her family) are good hearted people,” he continued. “I am glad to see someone recognizing them.”

“Early on in the pandemic, it was very unknown,” Cara Novick, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Virginia, said. “Leslie did a lot of research on the best filtered and protective materials. It was a life saver. I would wear one of her masks under my other masks. I was able to feel like I knew I was better protected.”

Novick and Smith knew each other from their dogs, who happen to be half-siblings.

“She was working around the clock,” Novick said. “Making different masks with different materials and making it possible for healthcare workers to feel comfortable and safe during the pandemic. Thank you for continuing to be the amazing individual that you are. Thank you for dedicating yourself and your energy to helping your friends and family and community be safe.”

“The minute it (COVID-19) hit and you couldn’t get a mask anywhere, she (Smith) started and made it known that she would give them out to people,” Sue Sweely, friend and supporter, said.

“Her speedy efforts made it work. I had gotten some for myself and my friends, and I was sending them to relatives. They were so comfortable and they were so cute,” Novick continued. “I think she was a big help.”

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