Shortly after the shelter-in-place orders were given in the Bay Area, many members of IATSE Local 784 — the Theatrical Wardrobe Union — who work in varying capacities in the entertainment industry found themselves out of work. However, instead of focusing on their own plight, members have taken the initiative to put their skills to benefit others and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes using their design and sewing skills to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for frontline health care and grocery workers.
“I don’t want to look back at this time and say that I didn’t do something that I could do,” said Maggie Heaman, who’s been a journeyman with Local 784 since 2016. “The need is just so great, there’s so much need out there. It’s not that hard to be inspired.”
Heaman, who knew from the earliest days of the pandemic that the PPE shortage was acute, has been steadily making cloth masks and surgical caps for the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. She joined the Facebook group Mask-ER-Aid, founded by two high school students that’s made up of about 80 volunteers who make masks based on what the hospital needs.
Anna Prisekin, another journeyman who’s been with Local 784 since 2005, is part of an artists collective in San Francisco, and found out from a fellow artist about the great need for masks at grocery stores. She’s been making cloth masks for workers at Rainbow Grocery and other local markets and convenience stores where workers are constantly interacting with customers in small spaces, putting themselves at risk.
“Knowing that someone else has a need and that I’m able to help actually helps me deal with stress and anxiety,” Prisekin said. “I have the skills and supplies to make masks, so it’s something I can do to keep myself sane, because otherwise I might lose myself in despair. It makes me feel more useful and I know there are other people out there doing more than I am.”
“It’s my call to duty,” said Kristen McCullough, Local 784 journeyman who’s been a member for four years. “My craft is sewing, it’s what I know to do — it’s a serendipitous situation that I jumped on because I’m out of work and this is what I can do. My mom and friends work in health care and I’m so inspired by what they’re doing.” McCullough started out making masks for family and friends and now donates them to Kaiser Hospital in Richmond.
Local 784 Business Agent Bobbi Boe and other union leaders have helped the efforts by emailing resources to members such as where to find materials to make the masks as fabric stores are closed during the shutdown. Much of the material has been donated to the members who in turn donate the masks. “It’s not something that anyone can do alone in this environment, we need the network,” commented Heaman.
“A lot of members are doing what they can. I’m very proud that they’re stepping up and helping with this effort,” said Boe.
Prisekin explained that being a union member has made her better understand the importance of volunteering in times of need. “That’s definitely something I’ve learned from being involved in the Labor movement,” she said. “It’s not just about making sure that I’m doing better. If we can collectively make sure that everyone is doing better, it benefits all of us.”
“I’m really proud of my union right now because we’re all working together,” McCullough said.