When the University closed in March, Patti Munster had some time on her hands. Scrolling through Facebook, she noticed her hometown ambulance service needed face masks. She had some fabric in a closet so she thought she’d give it a try. A couple of hours later, she had her first one.

That was more than 1,000 masks ago, and now she’s a mask-making machine.  The administrative aide in the Dean of Students Office (DOS) has been back at her desk since June, but has still found time to make face coverings for first responders, health care workers, nursing home residents, volunteers who distributed lunches to children, the entire office staff, retirees, even employees at Meijer.

“There’s a learning curve but believe me, I’ve got it down,” she said, estimating it only takes her about 10 to 15 minutes now. “It just gives me joy to do it, it really does,” she said. “And for other people to know you care enough to do that, it gives them hope.”

Using ISU fabric donated by Jill Benson, associate dean of students, Munster has sewn about 50 masks for office staff. She takes custom orders, with the most unusual being one made from a Crown Royal Canadian whiskey bag. She’s mailed them to Ohio and Iowa, left dozens on her porch, and delivered several when someone asked for one.

All materials have been donated. She believes that allowing others to give is a gift of its own.

“If you don’t receive, someone else can’t give,” she said. “It takes both.”

Every morning she’s up at 4:20 a.m. for a mile-long walk. On an afternoon walk, she spoke to a woman on her porch, asking if she had a mask. She didn’t, so Munster went home, picked up a dozen, and left them at her door.

Illinois State masks

Munster has made up to 30 masks in a single day.

She made three to four dozen for Meijer employees. When she heard about a Walmart employee who was getting headaches from wearing a mask over a 12-hour shift, she custom fit him. She made eight so he’d always have a clean one.

“Whatever it takes,” she said. “This is my therapy. I feel like this is something I can do when you feel like you can’t do anything.”

She’s worn out a rotary cutter, a tool used to cut fabric. Now she uses scissors, which makes it go a little slower. Some days she overdoes it and has to prop her aching forearms up on a pillow while cutting and pinning. She’s made as many as 30 masks in one day.

When people offer to pay her, she won’t accept a dime.

“I tell them to help somebody else,” she said. “When you order out at lunch, give your server or the person who delivers it an extra tip. Just pay it forward, do something for somebody else that would make a difference to them.”

The first time she learned to cut and stitch was under the eyes of her mom, who died when she was 11. Her stepmother continued to teach her sewing skills.

Masks aren’t her favorite thing to wear. As soon as she’s out of a building, she takes it off. She also doesn’t keep many for herself, just one for each car and four for work.

Benson said it’s not unusual for the subject of masks to come up when someone drops by Munster’s desk.

“On a nearly daily basis I overhear her say to someone, ‘Do you have a mask?’” she said.

Laura Willis is the LeRoy Emergency Ambulance Service Administrator who started this when she put out the Facebook call for masks. She had a limited supply of personal protective equipment for her crews, who transport about 2,000 patients a year. Munster provided her with her first mask, and then made dozens more.

“Those 50 to 100 bloomed into something way bigger than what we were expecting,” Willis said. “She went above and beyond.”

And she has no intention of stopping.