SOUTH BETHLEHEM – Faced with the ever-increasing need for masks, one local woman found a way to use her sewing abilities to aid local businesses.
Like so many others, Sharon Lightner of South Bethlehem began her mask-making venture as a way to distract herself from the unrelenting reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a realtor for Rupp Real Estate, Lightner was unable to work in the wake of the statewide stay-at-home order and was in need of some way to occupy her time.
“All I was doing was worrying. I was glued to the TV and watching the news all day,” Lightner said. She explained that she got the idea to start sewing masks after seeing a Facebook post from a woman who was making masks for her daughter, who was a nurse.
Lightner found a pattern online and began making and donating masks to area nursing homes, businesses and essential workers.
“It saved my sanity because I was able to focus on making the masks,” she said, noting that orders soared after she posted her masks on a local craft page. “I got orders from nurses in Wisconsin, and a group of truck drivers out of Ohio.”
As a long-time sewer, Lightner said she started making the masks with a stockpile of material she had in her sewing room, and worked together with some friends to create the perfect mask design — complete with pockets for liners and an adjustable nose strip.
“It was a group effort,” she said of the design process. “Everybody donated their time and efforts.”
With the high demand of orders, Lightner said it was often hard to find materials to continue making masks. Because she was donating the masks, she would not accept payment for her work. Instead, she asked for donations of fabric, elastic and thread to keep her efforts afloat.
Things changed, however, when Lightner was approached by her son to sew masks for his company. He told his mother that the company would purchase all the necessary materials and pay her $5 per mask.
Uneasy about accepting payment, Lightner said she was encouraged by her husband to give the money to someone else.
“I started thinking about all the businesses in town who either had to shut their doors [or work at a reduced capacity],” she said, adding that she decided to use the money to support local business owners.
And a new movement was born. Lightner began selling all her masks for $5 a piece, with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated to local businesses.
To date, Lightner said she has sewed a total of around 1,000 masks, and has supported five local businesses with monetary donations.
“I usually give the money in $500 increments,” she said, noting that she has even begun collecting money for another round of donations. “I’m very close, and I know who I want to give it to.”
Lightner said she couldn’t imagine what it was like for local business owners to lose their income in such a short period of time, and was glad that she could step in to help even a little.
“I know [my contribution] didn’t solve their problems, but I’m hoping it at least helped,” she said. “Hopefully it was encouraging for them to hang in there and know that we as a community do care.”