Egads Co-Founders Shift to Mask-Making During Pandemic

From left to right, husbands and Egads co-founders Remy Darby and Jeff Ball wearing their homemade face masks.

It started with a few bandannas and elastic remnants from an old craft project. My husband Jeff Ball had dusted off a sewing machine from storage and set it up on the dining room table to make a few cloth face masks for us and the family. 

I guess you could say our initial reactions to the coronavirus pandemic were pretty different. While Jeff was watching YouTube tutorials about sewing, I was experimenting with preparing hash browns in the toaster. At this point, it was two weeks ahead of the CDC's recommendation to wear face masks in public, and I was more interested in stuffing my face rather than covering it. But Jeff's instincts told him to keep practicing his top stitch.

When news broke of the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, Jeff sprang into action. Grabbing fabric and materials during his next supermarket run, he started making more cloth face masks. A south Toledo native, Jeff wanted to help keep his community safe.

A colorful assortment of cloth face masks featuring galaxy and space prints line a table.

"Even though I'm no professional sewer, I knew this was a way we could help," Jeff said. "While it's so important to support healthcare and essential workers, I wanted to make sure everyday people could also do our part and protect each other by wearing masks." 

Jeff placed a box of homemade masks on our front porch swing and posted to the Harvard Terrace Facebook group offering them for free to those in need. The response was strong. Within hours, the box was empty. As people started asking how they could help, we began accepting cash donations, fabric and elastic.

A self-serve station for homemade masks sits on a porch swing.

Our neighbors stepped up in a big way. They dropped off bags after bags filled with material and other sewing notions. Others left cash or donated through apps. We even got spoiled with snack packages, baked goods and orange marmalade. Our community's generosity has been remarkable.

I put down my fork and rolled up my sleeves to support the cause. As of October 27, 2020 we've given away more than 1,000 masks. We're proud to have supported local healthcare workers, educators and even zoo employees.

Toledo Zoo employee Anna Miller wears a homemade face mask as she cares for an elephant.

Our dining room has been converted into a makeshift sewing studio to accommodate the daily work. And even though thread snips are slowly starting to cover every surface of my house, it feels good to be doing something positive for our community as we all cope with COVID-19.

A sewing machine and pattern pieces for face masks line the top of a dining room table.

It gives us great comfort to see our neighbors coming together in support as we find creative ways to stay connected while social distancing. In the midst of all the worrying news, we continue to be inspired by our community's compassion and resolve.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our project. Your support keeps us going. We plan to keep mask-making as long as we can.

Stay safe, friends!

A bright green Post-it with a Fashion Plate rubbing of a girl with her arms crossed. Someone has penciled in a mask and speech bubble that says I'm smiling under this face mask.

Husbands Remigio Darby and Jeff Ball are the co-founders of Egads, an online shop based in Toledo, Ohio featuring screen printed drinkware and gifts.