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Local church ministers with masks

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It has become common over the past two months to enumerate the ways in which the country failed to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic. But those problems have also given rise to a range of humanitarian cottage industries, like ad hoc grocery delivery services and the production of protective gear for first responders and front-line workers.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, in East Meadow, began such an effort in March, when its Sisterhood of Our Lady of Kazan established a “mask ministry” for its members. The parish, which serves all of southeastern Nassau County, including Seaford and Wantagh, counts police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, nurses and at least one nursing home manager among its members.

The team was led by parishioner Nancy Geng Vassilakis, of Merrick, who has her own business making custom jewelry and decorative fabric items. “[Parish President] Loraine Babaian had some really beautiful antique fabric from the 1960s and ’70s,” Geng Vassilakis said. “I cut the fabric into 6-inch by 9-inch rectangles, [and parishioners] Valerie Eagen, her daughter Ruth Ann and Mary Ann Crowley sewed pairs of the rectangles together,” adding straps and reinforcement across the nose. “The masks are 100 percent cotton, and they’re reversible and washable.”

“They don’t give the same level of protection as surgical masks or the N95s,” Geng Vassilakis added. “But people can wear them as covers for surgical masks, so the masks will last longer.” And even cloth masks can help prevent contagion, especially when worn by those who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Recently, the group also began sewing elastic headbands with large buttons on either side, for those who wear their masks for long periods. Geng Vassilakis explained that the straps hurt some people’s ears, and that fastening them around the buttons alleviates the discomfort.

Many of the community’s own front-line workers received masks weeks ago. Now the group also supplies local health care facilities, like Mercy Hospital, where parishioner Shelly Krzeminski is a nurse.

Each mask takes about 20 minutes to make, Geng Vassilakis said, and to date, the team has made more than 600 of them. Sisterhood members Alexis Acheson, who is a nurse, and Tamara Liguori, a retired Nassau County police sergeant, handle most of the deliveries, crisscrossing the county.

Holy Trinity’s pastor, the Very Rev. Martin Kraus, said the initiative embodied the church’s Christian values. “This is a unique point in history,” he said, “and it’s really inspiring to see our parishioners stepping up, extending themselves both for their fellow parishioners and for the whole community.”