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Face masks contract is two fold at Oh Suzannah: Increasing employee hours; saving lives across country

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Seamstress Lena Wilkerson at her sewing machine at Oh Suzannah.

At Oh Suzannah in Spindale a handful of seamstresses are making between 1,000 to 1,500 face masks per day in these times of COVID-19 when wearing a mask is required in many areas to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The seamstress and quality inspectors are working six days a week to provide the much needed masks for people across the United States. They are distributed to contractors across the country.

"We are part of a group that is working with and through FEMA in concert to provide these pieces," said Jeff Crawford, manager of the family business begun by his parents Don and Judy Crawford 26 years ago. It began as a manufacturing company for ladies apparel contracting with companies across the country.

Just three days into the new sewing project, Crawford said during an interview last week the company has exceeded his expectation by about 25 percent.

The seamstresses are working six days a week - half days on Saturday - in order to ship out as many masks on a daily basis as possible. A weekly personal goal of Crawford's is to make 10,000 face masks per week and get them into the hands of the distributors.

The present order is through June and after that Crawford said there could be other orders for nationwide distribution. He also said they could possibly begin manufacturing custom-made masks for school staff and students using the schools' colors and mascots.

Prior to the order for masks the sewing plant was only partially running with employees averaging about 25 hours per week.

"I knew we'd always stay in business, but could not guarantee... and this just sort of fell in my lap," he said. The new contract is two fold. Crawford is grateful the family business can provide additional hours for his employees and he has added a couple of new hires/re-hires and can make an essential product that is in high demand.

Crawford said the process of making these masks is three steps. One seamstress takes a rectangular 3 ply fabric to build in facial conformity. Another seamstress then binds those pieces to hold that shape and third step is to fully bind all exposed edges. In this step, the ear loops are sewn.

"All of these steps have critical measurements to be adhered," he said. "After the last insetting steps, the final task is done which secures everything against ever pulling loose. Before packaging and sending out, the masks go through a detailed quality control step," he said.

Being able to make masks and knowing they will be used to help stop the spread of the virus and to save lives has double benefits. His employees are getting more hours and people are getting the masks they need.

He said his dad, whose purpose in opening the business was to provide jobs for people in Rutherford County would have been "in with both feet" on making masks to help others.

Seamstress Debbie Jones, who works on one of the final sewing steps, said last week, "it's a wonderful feeling."

Crawford said not meaning to sound mercenary, "We have to strike while the iron is hot."

The majority of the time seamstresses are practicing social distancing being six feet apart in three separate rooms at the plant that is located off Callahan-Koon Road in Spindale. Women are not required to wear masks, but certainly have that opportunity.

A Moon Lighting project: Last week the seamstress were allowed to do a little 'moon-lighting' project for the Sandy Run Baptist Association Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) suggested by the state and local WMU leaders. The employees at Oh Suzannah made 200 masks at the plant that were purchased by the WMU from Shiloh Baptist Church for distribution to church and community members who needed a mask. Some of the masks were donated to the Rutherford County EMS, said WMU member Lillian Phillips from Shiloh church and also church members and any in the community needing a mask.

Other individual WMU members across the association have also been making masks daily.

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