On April 5, the Department of Defense issued an order for all service members, civilians, and contractors to wear face coverings on military installations when they’re unable to comply with the six-foot social distancing guidance. They can wear cloth masks, neck gaiters and balaclavas, but are not permitted to wear N95s or surgical masks reserved for health professionals.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a world-wide mask shortage that has made it difficult for DoD personnel to find face coverings to comply with the guidance.
That’s where Amber Gallagher and her Marine husband Capt. Patrick Gallagher, an IT management major at the Naval Postgraduate School, leaped into mask-making action. They converted their garage into a sewing area where they make an average of 50-60 masks daily.
The couple has made over 1000 masks that they donated to people here in the Monterey area, and mailed to friends and service members across the U.S. and overseas -- all at their expense.
“Yesterday we mailed 15 packages of masks to friends and service members in Wisconsin, Georgia, Louisiana, Hawaii, Okinawa and Bahrain,” Amber said. “If a unit in Okinawa asks for 50 plain-black masks, I’m going to make them 50 plain-black masks.”
She added “there’s an oncology clinic here that needs masks, so I am going to make them 25 masks. Whoever it is! If you have to go to work or you just want to feel safe at Target, I want to make you a mask.”
Amber was laid off from her job as the administrative director at the Carmel Youth Center shortly after the shelter-in-place went into effect. With extra time on her hands, she decided to do something positive to help people.
“I would love for more people to have cloth masks and not utilize N95s and surgical masks because those could be going to healthcare workers on the front lines fighting this [pandemic],” she said. “I want more people to buy into the mask mentality … making it part of our daily life.”
Both Amber and Patrick agree that people are more likely to wear masks that are enjoyable to wear – rather than just plain-white masks.
“It makes it more fun to wear a mask if it feels cool … we’re going to have to get used to it, so why not have fun with it,” she said.
Amber started making masks from materials she had left over from her sewing business while stationed overseas. Once word spread about her masks, service members started donating uniforms, so she could make military compliant masks as well.
“CSM Londers and Col. Ford donated their old uniforms … and as long as we keep getting donations of uniforms, we can keep making military masks,” she said.
As requests piled up, Amber’s husband Patrick, who has never sewn, decided to help. The sewing expert put her Marine through a quick sewing boot camp. Despite his heavy class load, he makes time every day to make masks for his fellow service members.
“The big thing for me is Marines and Soldiers deserve to have something reasonably professional to wear,” said Patrick. “We shouldn’t have our people going to work with a t-shirt around their face.”
The couple turned the project into a family activity by enlisting the help of their two daughters Emeline, 7 and Jovi, 5. “Their main job is to do inside-outs. They also help trim things. They unpack shoe laces and they also help clean-up every day,” Amber said.
She added “last night we turned it into a family dance party. We put on one of our favorite albums and just hung out and made masks.”
“Instead of sitting around watching the news, we’re doing something positive for people,” said Patrick. “It’s a nice distraction from all that’s going on.”
The couple said they have received a lot of support from neighbors and other members of the community through donations and people who volunteer to help them. Their friend Kristi Lyons donated a second sewing machine, so they can both sew at the same time to increase production.
“My neighbor Liz has never sewn before, but she spends a couple hours every night ironing straps, so I can put them into masks,” said Amber.
The Gallaghers’ plan to continue making masks through the duration of this pandemic. They are happy to receive donations of old military uniforms, elastic and material that will enable them to continue providing free masks to people who need them.
Military leaders who received masks for their troops have expressed gratitude and praised the couple for their service.
“What a great military family. They are the epitome of selfless service,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Londers, Presidio of Monterey Command Sergeant Major. “They are looking out for their community and military … so we as service members can do our job of protecting the nation."
To donate uniforms and materials to the Gallaghers, send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org