Volunteers Dedicated To Saving Ears Through Ongoing Project
A Facebook post from early April has launched a project that is helping dozens of people wear face masks a little more comfortably in recent weeks.
On April 7, Danbury resident Holly Broderick posted that she was looking for some buttons to use on small knitted or crocheted bands that are meant to hold the elastics on face masks in place. By putting a face mask’s elastic ear bands around a button on either end of the ear saver, the elastic is no longer rubbing on the back of a person’s ears.
For those who need to wear masks for hours, and days, at a stretch, the small items are indeed ear savers.
There are six generations of people across the region now participating in the ongoing project, according to Broderick.
“We were all coping with the idea of being isolated and jobless,” she said.
Among the first to respond to Broderick’s post was Cyndie McGuire, “who I didn’t know,” Broderick said. Before long the two were on Facebook Messenger, “organizing and gathering help, and taking orders. By the end of the day, we had 15 people helping and about 10 orders.”
Within 24 hours, she said, “it turned into a group of 50-plus people very fast.”
Another group, based in Westchester, is doing similar work, according to Broderick.
“Between both groups we have about 100 people help us out,” she said July 3.
As of last week, Broderick said, the team had delivered ear savers to 16 individuals who are healthcare professionals in various fields, 12 doctors’ offices/surgery centers, 11 hospitals, 11 senior living facilities, seven grocery stores, seven restaurants, five school districts, a veterinarian’s office, one post office, and one senior center.
With orders already received, The Ear Savers Crew is already planning to make another five deliveries to hospitals, at least 20 additional grocery stores, at least one more doctor’s office/surgery center, and another restaurant.
“I’m sure we’ll have more orders to come” from healthcare professionals, she noted. She also expects the group will receive additional requests from senior living facilities, and “we are assuming we will have many more orders” when school reopens, she said.
As of July 3, the group had delivered 4,075 ear savers. It expected to pass the 4,500-mark by July 10.
“We still have about 4,500 ear savers left to make, and that’s if we don’t get any more orders,” she said. The Ear Savers Crew will continue, Broderick promised, “as long as we are needed.”
‘An Amazing Network’
Broderick said she had “no clue” how big the project would become. She is having fun with it, though.
“We have this amazing network,” she said.
Members create their ear savers, and most deliver them to McGuire’s home in Bethel. McGuire also goes out and picks up ear savers “from everyone in Bethel and surrounding towns,” said Broderick. McGuire’s husband has also been tasked with picking up ear savers from those in Westchester.
Those who live in Danbury deliver their crocheted or knitted pieces to Broderick’s home.
“We also have a few in upstate Connecticut and along the shoreline that send them directly to me,” she said.
Once she receives ear savers, Broderick takes photos and shares them within the group “so that we can all admire the craftsmanship,” she noted.
She then washes each ear saver. With help from a friend, she puts them into individual zip-close bags, prints out letters, and writes Thank You on each envelope.
A former Newtown resident and a meditation teacher at Newtown Salt Spa, Broderick also puts a coupon for meditation in with each letter. Once each week, she then takes all of the ear savers, letters, etc, and delivers them to the home of Kerrigan West.
A friend of Broderick’s, West takes care of stuffing the envelopes and stapling the bags to each envelope, effectively creating an Ear Saver Kit.
Once that is done, Broderick picks up the kits, “counts them and separates them into various party bags, and make deliveries.”
Among those who saw Broderick’s original post and signed up quickly was Newtown resident Lisa Smith.
“I think we started this in March, right when everything started really happening,” Smith said last week. To date, she believes she has made approximately 150 of the ear protectors.
“That’s still isn’t like some of the other ladies, but it’s still a good amount,” she said.
Each protector takes approximately 15 minutes for Smith. She crochets the main part of each saver, she said, which takes about ten minutes.
“Then I weave the ends — or finish them off — and sew on the buttons, which takes another five minutes,” she said. Many others have found that working in those three stages is very productive, she said.
Smith admitted there have been nights when she loses track of time working on ear savers.
“I was watching one of my shows one night, and ended up staying up until 11 or 12,” she said with a laugh. “You literally lose track of time when you get going sometimes.”
Until recently, Smith shared her crocheting skills with just a few people.
“I’ve been crocheting for about 30 years now,” she said Monday afternoon. “The only other thing I’ve done are blankets to give to people, or baby booties to give to people, stuff like that.”
The opportunity to participate in The Ear Savers Crew project, she said, has a lot to do with the idea of giving back to those who need it the most.
“My sister is a nurse and I know the hours the healthcare profession and those that care for others put in,” she said. “Anything to help them relieve something is worth it.”
Now she is hooked. When she packed for a family trip last week, Smith made sure to include her crocheting supplies.
In May, Broderick launched a gofundme account. With a goal of $4,000, she “just wanted to make sure no one goes broke trying to help others,” she said.
Everyone on The Ear Savers Crew is doing this as a volunteer, she said.
To make 500 ear savers — the average number being delivered each week — 12 skeins of yarn is needed, along with 1,000 buttons, 500 envelopes, two ink cartridges, and one pack of paper.
Each skein of yarn, Broderick pointed out, is between $3 and $5. The cost of buttons varies; envelopes are about $17 for a pack of 500, paper is approximately $2 to $5 per ream of 500 sheets, and ink is approximately $55 for a two-pack of cartridges, she said.
“It adds up,” she said. “Cyndie and I started calculating what we were spending and decided it was best to start asking for help.”
As of July 8, the fund had raised $1,371. For each $5 donation, according to the fund’s mission, the group is able to purchase one skein of yarn, “which we can use to make about 30 ear savers,” Broderick noted online.
A $5 donation also covers the cost of one ream of paper, “which allows us to print 500 thank you letters,” she added. Each ear saver is accompanied with a note to its recipient, thanking them for their work during the pandemic. Ear savers are being delivered to people in five different states, according to an update on the gofundme page.
The gofundme “definitely has helped,” she said. The fund has covered shipping costs, ink, “a few hundred skeins of yarn, and thousands of buttons,” according to its creator.
The cross-section of those who have volunteered in recent months continues to amaze Broderick.
“Yesterday was our youngest member’s birthday,” she said July 7. “She turned 9 years old! Happy birthday to Miss Lilly Kauffman.”
Lilly reportedly learned how to crochet so that she could help the group. “Then she taught her grandma how to crochet, too, and they are doing this together,” Broderick said.
“We have generations of people working with us and we are all different. Some are different religions, different genders, different skin tones, different ages, and it’s beautiful.”