Employees and friends of Jophiel women’s clothing and accessories in Covington Plaza are turning out face masks at a high rate. As of May 1 they had made and delivered more than 2,000 to health-care facilities around the state, local businesses, charitable organizations and individuals.

Face masks are a principal element of the PPE — personal protective equipment — initiative. The precautions have come into public focus since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused shortfalls in the protective gear even in the healthcare community.

Jophiel, which has been owned and operated by Julie Clancy for the past 25 years, began making the masks March 25 when one of her employees, Jan Futter, heard from her daughter in Indianapolis — who works in the COVID-19 testing lab at Community East Hospital — that a dire need for masks existed.

“When we heard about the huge shortage,” Clancy said, “and the fact that some medical workers were wearing their masks for three days we decided to get busy. Our first shipment was just 62 masks, but it was a good start. It took us about four hours to make them.

“We’re not making medical-grade masks, but ours are three-ply construction, which gives a little more protection. We use two layers of 100% cotton fabric with an interface (featherweight fibrous material) in between. This gives the mask body. People who wear ours are very fashionable. What would you expect from an upscale women’s clothing store!

“At first it was just five of us cutting and sewing at home. We revamped our alteration department with two socially spaced sewing machines and cutting tables so that we could increase our output. We created a little cottage industry by enlisting several family members and off-site seamstresses to help us meet the growing need. The first 950 masks went to Community East and Parkview Health hospitals. Our masks are also going to Community Health Network and Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis and a number of charitable organizations.”

Clancy pointed out that “mask making has not been profitable, but we’re seeing that change a little. In the beginning all the money went back into buying supplies. We donate masks to medical facilities and charge $8 for businesses and individuals. The $8 allows us to purchase materials to make another four, which are donated. We’ve had a lot of angels come to our aid with cash donations and others who have given us material, including elastic, which turned out to be the toughest thing to get. Quilt fabric has also been in high demand.”

Jophiel, which had been closed to the public since the start of the quarantine, reopened May 4. “During that time we got online orders, which we either shipped or delivered to the customer’s car curbside in front of our store. Now that we’re in the ‘new normal’ we are wearing masks in the store and suggest our customers do the same. We’re in the process of designing and making patterns for masks to be worn by the employees and volunteers of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, which is gearing up to open later this summer. Also for use by families whose relatives are in hospice care.”

“We’re blessed to be part of the Payroll Protection Program,” Clancy said of the U.S. Small Business Administration potentially forgivable loan program to cover employee payroll and some other costs to keep businesses operating. “It allowed us to keep operating through this time as an essential business. Being able to help fill a need has been very satisfying. We’ll continue to make them as long as needed.”

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