Sew many masks

Some of the 527 masks that Jessica Montalvo has made to give away since the pandemic began.

Montalvo focuses her creativity on potentially life-saving mission

Jessica Montalvo loves to sew. Ever since her mother taught her, the director of student services for pharmacy programs has blended sewing with her creativity, making clothes, arts and crafts, accessories and earrings – all sorts of things. 

Since the pandemic began, Montalvo has focused her creativity on one potentially life-saving mission – making 527 cloth face masks to help protect others from the spread of COVID-19.

It started this past spring when she was on maternity leave.  “I have always loved to sew and I knew there was a huge need in our community to start making masks.” She first made them for friends in other states that mandated mask-wearing mandates before Indiana did. “I knew that we all had to come together and use all of our resources.”

To learn how, Montalvo turned to YouTube and found a pattern for which she already had the materials – 100 percent cotton cloth and 1/4 quarter inch elastic.

“I just started making them and giving them away. People wanted to pay me, but I said, ‘Absolutely not. This is something that we all have to come together around and help each other with.’”

Montalvo posted on Facebook that she was making masks and if anyone needed one, to let her know. “Word of mouth got out really fast,” she says.

Other people lend support. Friends and family find material for her, while others donate money to help defray the expense. Montalvo gained speed with practice and can make a mask, start to finish, in less Science-Centralthan 10 minutes. “The hardest part is cutting all the fabric. Then putting them together and sitting at the sewing machine is a piece of cake.”

She makes it sound easier than it is. Montalvo is back to work full time for Manchester while raising her daughter (with her in photo), Lara Juliana, born Feb. 5. She serves on the board of Fort Wayne’s Science Center (Montalvo made huge masks for the dinosaur statues outside, pictured at right), and she recently joined Faith United Methodist Church, contributing face masks for their community outreach. 

The one thing she has taken a break from – temporarily – is pursuit of a Ph.D. in global leadership, with a concentration on academic administration, at Indiana Tech.

Montalvo-with-daughter“I am blessed,” she says of Lara. “She is such a happy baby. She’ll come into the sewing room with me and watch me sew sometimes.” Most of the time, Montalvo makes masks while Lara takes an early-evening “catnap.”

In addition to sewing, Montalvo says one of her passions is mental health, which also translates into how we take care of ourselves. She has special training in suicide prevention and helping young people cope with depression, anxiety and other disorders.

Making masks is Montalvo’s personal form of therapy. “I have found a huge place where I know that masks are needed and I love to sew. I’m in my happy place in my sewing room and knowing, at the same time, that I’m helping our community,” she added. “Just being able to give back helps my peace of mind.”

As for the pharmacy students with whom she works, Montalvo says the pandemic “is a whole new avenue of emotions and feelings.” Anxiety is a part of the pharmacy school experience in the best of times, and the pandemic just exacerbates it.  

“I know the students want to connect with the community to continue to provide the services we’ve always provided,” such as blood drives and health screenings, she adds. “We’re trying to come up with innovative ways to offer services virtually,” she says, to ensure everyone’s safety.

“I think we’re going to be resilient, but it’s a whole new world we’re facing,” says Montalvo.

Meanwhile, she is grateful for a job that she can do from home and still take care of Lara. “The beauty of the whole situation is that I’ve been able to watch her grow up. That’s been incredible.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81