York attorney making, donating masks to help protect nurses, doctors from COVID-19
It took a little time, research and nudging until a York attorney with a talent for quilting came around to the idea that she could help medical workers stay safer from COVID-19 transmission by sewing and donating face masks.
But Dawn Cutaia now believes her work is making a difference.
"I'm just going to keep making masks until people tell me they don’t want them anymore," she said.
It was her friend and fellow York attorney Suzanne Smith who first pointed out to Cutaia that many medical professionals on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic don't have access to enough face masks.
"I sent her a link to a video and said, 'This is right up your alley,'" Smith told The York Dispatch. "She wrote back, 'No one is going to be using these homemade masks.'"
"I honestly didn't think they really needed them," Cutaia said. "I thought, 'Aren't they going to get their real masks soon?'"
Smith responded by sending her more articles and social-media posts until her arguments won the day.
"She became convinced," Smith said, adding that she knew Cutaia would throw herself into the project and do it right.
Smith described Cutaia as the kind of person who buys a cup of coffee and leaves a $20 tip.
"She just wants to do good things and not be recognized for them," Smith said.
'Online phenomenon': Cutaia said she scoured the internet to research mask patterns, watched tutorials on making them and also watched videos of medical professionals discussing which mask styles worked best and which were the most comfortable. She also connected with a national community of sewing enthusiasts through the "million mask challenge" hashtag and uses a pattern offered there, she said.
"It's become this massive online phenomenon," she said.
Cutaia's masks have ties made of comfortable, non-fraying T-shirt yarn, rather than elastic, and pockets where filters can be inserted. She bought 3M Filtrete filters online and cut them up to fit in the pockets of masks she makes for medical professionals.
"It's very labor-intensive and very expensive, and quite frankly (Filtrete filters) are difficult to get anymore," she said, apparently because of the pandemic. Masks she makes for family and friends also have filter pockets that can hold coffee filters or even paper towels. The filters must be replaced daily, and masks must be washed daily.
Cutaia has donated 150 masks to medical professionals so far, she said.
Retired York County Common Pleas Judge John S. Kennedy connected Cutaia with his sister, Jill Kennedy, who is a respiratory therapist in Boynton Beach, Florida, because Jill Kennedy and her co-workers didn't have enough personal protection equipment.
"I made about 50 masks for her (medical office)," Cutaia said.
'Act of service': The retired judge said Cutaia made an unflattering remark about her masks, but he told her the recipients probably look at them as if they were gold.
"It's hard for me to express in words how amazing she is," Kennedy said. "What an act of service by a talented trial lawyer. She is an angel."
Cutaia then donated about 60 masks to Florida's Boca Raton Regional Hospital, "because Boca has been hit really hard with COVID-19 cases," she said. "The next hospital I'm making masks for is one in the (Florida) Keys. They don't have any masks, so they are next on the list."
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that everyone should be wearing masks, she began making them for family and friends.
"I charge 5 bucks a mask, which covers supplies and shipping," Cutaia said. "I've sold probably 40 masks," more than half of them to Yorkers.
A number of York attorneys who are still going to the county's judicial center for essential hearings and business now sport Cutaia-made masks, including Smith, first assistant public defender Clasina Houtman, Shaleeta Washington and Cutaia's law partner, Carrie Pugh.
"I had several friends make donations," Cutaia said, including Washington.
"I used (Washington's donation) to buy a sewing machine for my friend in Oregon who sews but didn't have a sewing machine," Cutaia said, so the friend can make and donate masks too.
"Dawn never hesitates to donate her talents and take time out of her busy schedule to help others," Pugh said.
More supplies: The money donated to Cutaia is going to buy more supplies and to pay for shipping, she said.
She said it now takes her about 20 minutes to make a mask from start to finish. She washes and irons cotton quilting fabric, cuts out the pattern, finishes the edges to avoid fraying, then uses a large paper clip inserted into folded bias tape to allow the masks to be formed around people's noses.
Cutaia lived in York for 20 years but now lives in Boynton Beach. She continues to practice bankruptcy law in Pennsylvania and is a partner at York law firm Pugh & Cutaia.
"York is my home," she said. "I just live in Florida to go biking."
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.