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Runway Couture in Bellmore makes 1,000+ masks for medical workers

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When Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered non-essential businesses to close amid the coronavirus pandemic, the seamstresses at Runway Couture in Bellmore returned to their home sewing machines to stitch together something besides designer dresses.

Since the shutdown, they have been making face masks to donate to health care workers, first responders and other essential personnel on the front lines of the crisis. In just the first week, they made 1,000 masks.

Runway co-owner Kimberly Towers, of Merrick, put her staff into action after Cuomo asked shuttered businesses to produce high-in-demand medical supplies if they had the means to do so. She had heard stories of doctors and nurses using bandanas — or pieces of paper towel strapped on with rubber bands — to cover their faces, and was immediately willing to help.

“We researched quickly, followed the guidelines, and my partner [Bianca Fuentes] perfected an amazing pattern,” Towers said. “We’re distributing them as we’re making them, and we’ve done this all while social distancing.”

The masks are not medical grade, but they are machine washable, Towers said, so they can be used as a protective cover for N95 masks “again and again.” When developing the prototype, Fuentes referenced a N95 mask that her husband uses for work in construction. She spent so much time cutting the first batch of material that her fingers blistered.

“It’s in our hands to do it,” Fuentes said, “and we are here doing it.”

After the fabric was cut to size, the Runway team pre-shrunk the material using their home laundry machines. Fuentes then made kits containing the pre-cut fabric, wire, elastic and instructions, and had them delivered to nine other seamstresses.

The first batch of masks was donated to Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside. Runway’s masks have also been donated to workers at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, St. Francis Hospital, St. Catherine’s Hospital and NYU Winthrop Hospital.

The team has produced surgical gowns and bonnets, as well. Fuentes said that a health care worker contacted her for a gown, so she made her one using leftover fabric from the masks. When she got the proper material, Fuentes made her two more.

“As remotely as we’re all working, I’ve never felt closer to this group of people as I do right now,” Towers said of her Runway “family.” “My whole team is donating their time and talent to make these masks for anyone who’s at risk and needs them.”

Mara, Runway’s manager, said she, too, was moved by the team’s efforts. “At a time where there’s so much need around,” she said, “so many people were willing to donate their time to do something for the greater good.”