Shawnee Mission Faces: Claudia Schaible, retired math teacher and full-time mask maker

On the sidewalk leading up to Claudia Schaible’s home, baggies of masks are pinned to her “mask laundering” clothes drying rack. It’s a common sight for her neighbors: Schaible has been stitching masks and giving away or selling them since April

She expects she has sewn more than 2,000 by now — although she admits she doesn’t stitch as fast as others, now averaging 50 or 60 a week. Her primary focus is getting masks in the hands of healthcare workers, teachers and nursing home workers.

A retired teacher for 15 years with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, Schaible taught at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and prior to that, Johnson County Community College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She lives in Merriam with her husband, Doug; her daughter Meaghan Jones, and two grandchildren, Shelby and Eli (aka “Bear”), and RJ, the family’s 12-year-old dog. She is blessed to be near her other son and his family, who live less than a mile away.

The first person that asked me to make masks, I was on a Zoom call for my WeightWatcher meeting. One of the other people in the group was a manager of a group of home healthcare people, and they didn’t have any PPE. And she’s like I don’t know what we’re going to do.

And I’m like, well I can make you some masks if you want. So that’s kind of how it got started.

She told me what she needed in a mask. At that time, you couldn’t get elastic. She wanted ties because she felt like they were more secure. She wanted the masks pleated, they needed to be three layers of cotton.

And so I did some more reading. There are sites on Facebook, there’s one that’s called Million Mask Challenge, I think is the name of it. They have really, really good information about what different hospitals wanted, and masks that were being donated. Very, very clear instructions on what they should and shouldn’t do.

And so I did a lot of research about that to make sure that the masks I was making were going to be OK for people.

Friends of ours know that I sew, so they started texting me and calling me, asking if I would make masks. I probably do it about eight or 10 hours a day now, five or six days a week. I’m not like the mask production person. I don’t turn them out that fast. But I get ‘em done.

All the masks are three layers of fabric, and the CDC has said now they can be cotton or polyester-cotton blend. So the two outer layers are cotton or poly-cotton, and the inner layer is a high-thread count sheet. So that helps break up the molecules and keeps them from being shared with other people.

People have asked me to make thinner ones or one-layer ones, or those gator things, and I won’t do that. The CDC has said they’re not very effective at stopping the spread of the COVID molecules. There are other places they can go buy masks that aren’t safe. And I don’t make them out of knit fabric or stretchy fabric either, only cotton or poly-cotton woven fabric.

I feel like I’m helping in a way that I can help, both when I donate them and even when I make a mask and I sell it to somebody. I’m selling it at a very fair price, and I feel like people, if they get a mask that they like the way it looks on them and they like the way it fits, and maybe they get two or three that go with different outfits or whatever, they’re going to be more likely to be happy about wearing it.

I price the masks at a point now where I can pay to buy more supplies to replace what I’m using up. So I’m not making any money, but hopefully not losing any money either. We’re just kind of treading water and keeping going and trying to help people. And it’s really important, too, I think for the kids that they have masks that they like the way they look. They’ll be a lot more inclined to wear them if they’re comfortable and they like the way they look.

The need for masks was really brought home to me. A good friend of ours is a pulmonologist, so we heard stories from her about how serious this is, this COVID pandemic thing. And then my daughter-in-law also works for the state and is in contact with Dr. Norman all the time, so she has a lot of contacts with the Hispanic and Latino population here in Kansas and how desperately underprovided for and underserved they are in their needs.

Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it’s a healthcare statement. We have dear friends that are healthcare workers, and they’re reusing these N95 masks over and over and over again, and I just think we’ve totally dropped the ball in protecting these people that we expect to protect us.

There’s an anger component to my mask-making too. That’s probably about half of it, is I am really angry. I feel like our government has failed to protect us. We all have to get it together and do what we have to do to protect ourselves, because they’re not doing it.

The basic foundation of our society is just being hung out to dry in this pandemic. Somebody’s got to do something, and if this is my one little part, then I am obligated to do it. That’s not a touchy-feely grandma kind of thing, but it’s there.