97-year-old Mary Leitch makes masks with a little help from her friends
AMENIA — Even as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting stay at home orders have persuaded most seniors to self isolate to keep from contracting the deadly virus, Amenia resident Mary Leitch, 97, has been keeping herself busy by making face masks to give away to friends, neighbors and others in need of them in the local community and beyond.
Born and raised on Winchell Mountain in nearby Millerton, the compassion Leitch has for the local community and its residents stands out in both her native roots and the her dedication to making face masks since this past February.
Amazed by her friend’s energy and know-how in taking on this task, JoAnn Parker, a Millbrook resident and friend of the Amenia senior, recalled the phone conversation she had with Leitch when she shared her thoughts about making masks. Leitch is familiar with how essential face masks are to keeping people safe around illnesses; she had previously worked as an RN at Sharon Hospital many years ago. Even as Parker asked her how she’d go about getting the materials needed to make the masks, Leitch remained optimistic about the challenges of her impending project.
“Mary is the type of person in whatever she might suggest, you never give her an inkling that it might not be a good idea,” Parker said fondly.
As luck would have it, Leitch encountered no difficulties in recruiting help from her friends. Her landlord and neighbor, Antony “Toby” Collins, retrieved her sewing machine down from her attic while her friend Catherine Howard supplied her with a variety of materials to make the masks. Once everything was in place, Leitch started making the masks with help from her friend, Millbrook Realtor Paula Redmond.
“I pictured them having a sewing bee and these masks were flying one by one,” Collins said in reference to Leitch and Redmond, who happens to be his wife, working together, though he added that the work was all business between them.
Once an ample amount of face masks had been made, Leitch and her friends began distributing them through a network of friends, some taking dozens of masks to share. Along with their friends and neighbors, they began giving the masks away free of charge to local municipalities and businesses, including the Millbrook Library, the Millbrook Diner, Uncle Al’s Thrift Shop and the Millbrook Hunt.
“I’m so happy I could do it,” Leitch said when reflecting on her contribution to the local community during the pandemic. “I read in the paper that people are charging for masks — I think it’s awful and I feel bad; it’s much better to give them away.”
Before long, Leitch’s masks spread through the Collins’ family through their local church as well as to the village of Millerton; the town of Canaan, N.Y.; Hudson River Healthcare Health Center in Amenia; and even to friends in Tennessee and Maine.
“We just started making them and they went like hotcakes,” Leitch said with a laugh. “When the word got out, they went fast.”
“They flew away, you might say,” Collins added. “It’s almost as if the masks had spread themselves.”
“She’s amazing, she’s really amazing and we gave them all away,” Redmond said.
Since Leitch first started making masks in February, she’s already produced around 400, sometimes making 16 masks a day. Even now, she is still hard at work making masks almost daily.
With dozens of masks at home just waiting to be sent out into the world, Leitch said she plans to take a short break and then start making more masks with new patterns in the coming weeks.