- by Mount Saint Mary College
Maddie Belfonti shows her mask-making station

Maddie Belfonti of Southington, Conn., an Accounting major on the five-year MBA track, shows her mask-making station at home.

As the need for cloth masks continues to rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mount Saint Mary College community is answering the call.

So far, efforts by faculty, staff, and students have yielded about 1,000 masks that have been sent all over the country.

Elaine Suderio-Tirone is an assistant professor of Nursing at the Mount and a nurse practitioner in Vassar Brothers Medical Center. She is a pediatric hospitalist, but was recently moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) as the number of COVID-19 patients increases.

Inspired by a news story about the current shortage of personal protection equipment, Suderio-Tirone recruited her teenage daughter, her brother, and her sister-in-law help her make masks. A typical day for Suderio-Tirone and her family for the past three weeks has been to sew from 7 a.m. up to 3 a.m. the following day.

The family began their labor of love on March 21, the day of Suderio-Tirone’s brother’s 50th birthday. Her brother, a registered nurse at Vassar Brothers, works with COVID-19 patients. The dedicated nurse said there was no other way he would have wanted to spend his birthday.

Before last month, Suderio-Tirone had very little sewing experiance. Today, Suderio-Tirone and her team have made about 800 masks so far. They have been sent all over the country, including California, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. In New York, Good Samaritan Hospital received Suderio-Tirone’s first 50 masks. She sent more to the Dyson Center for Cancer Care, Stony Brook University Hospital, Vassar Brothers Medical Center, area nursing homes, and even community members in need – from post office workers to the elderly.

“It’s good to know that we are able to provide masks and help, in some degree, to slow down the spread of the virus and protect the community,” said Suderio-Tirone. “Some people have been so helpful by dropping off supplies at my house and donating money to offset the costs of shipping.”

But even in the face of all this hard work, more requests for masks come in every day. When she’s teaching or working at the hospital, her family and other likeminded people from the Mount are continuing to make masks.

Belfonti Masks ready to be shipped“In the coming days, I will be in the eye of the storm with the COVID patients in ICU,” she said. “I am thankful that the Mount community will continue this project.”

Since posting her efforts to social media on March 21, Suderio-Tirone has inspired others to make masks as well, including Christine Lim from California. Lim has sewn hundreds of masks to help her local community, Suderio-Tirone reported.

Other Mount faculty and staff have lent their time and effort to the project as well, including Anne Marie Uebbing, associate professor of Nursing, and Karidis Tubo, clinical placement coordinator, both from the college’s School of Nursing.

Tubo has made more than 120 masks so far.

“Making a difference is when someone reaches out and asks for assistance,” said Tubo, who was recently contacted by someone who makes frequent visits to the doctor, even during the current pandemic, and was in need of a mask. “I looked through the fabric I had on hand and sent it immediately. The warm response from her mother and her was outstanding…It’s moments like that which make me appreciate combining my knowledge as a nurse into the creative skills that I have to make a difference.”

Mount students, having quickly acclimated themselves to learning online, are as eager as ever to serve their community. Maddie Belfonti of Southington, Conn., an Accounting major on the five-year MBA track, recently began sewing cloth masks as well. 

“Making masks to protect the people who are saving lives is the least I can do,” noted Belfonti. “If I or someone I loved got sick, I would want them to be treated by healthy nurses and doctors who are able to do their jobs. In times like these, we all need to be there for each other… it’s just the right thing to do to help.”

The college’s mask making efforts have been aided by Fr. Gregoire Fluet, director of Campus Ministry and campus chaplain. Once Belfonti got the hang of creating masks, she asked Fr. Fluet to help get the word out to the Mount community and inspire more faculty, staff, and students to help. Fr. Fluet has worked with Belfonti and Suderio-Tirone to distribute information about how to make proper masks and offer help to anyone who wants to get started.

“The more people we can get involved, the more people we can help,” said Belfonti.

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