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Utilizing Skills Learned as a Child to Help During the Pandemic

Utilizing Skills Learned as a Child to Help During the Pandemic

Julio Reinoso working hard creating masks.

At the beginning of March, during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Enterprise Association of Steamfitters Local 638, New York City and Long Island, NY, member Julio Reinoso was working in Brooklyn. The city subsequently shut down the job at the end of the month, as Brooklyn was becoming a hot spot for the virus. Brother Reinoso said, “Once I was laid off, and I was home, I felt like I wanted to do something to help out, but I didn’t know what I could do. My niece is a registered nurse in Virginia. She told me that they could use homemade masks to put over their N95s to make them last longer.”

            When Julio was a child, his mom and great-aunt would often sew. They taught him how to use a sewing machine. With a need identified, Julio got out the sewing machine and started to make facemasks.

            Julio continued, “I researched what materials were best to protect the wearer and for ease of breathability. It became my job. I would get started sewing at 6:00 a.m., take a coffee break at 9:00 a.m., stop at noon for lunch, and then continue making masks until 5:00 p.m. every day, including weekends.”

            Julio realized that the mask shortage was prolific throughout the country, and he knew he could help. He started making masks for friends, family, hospitals, his local volunteer fire department, neighborhood market, etc.

            “The word started to spread,” Julio said, “and I began to get requests. The Fire Department of N.Y., the New York Police Department, ConEdison, and the Connecticut Fire Department, and State Troopers all requested masks. I live on the border of New York and Connecticut. I sent masks to my Brother and Sister steamfitters who were still working and to the local union office staff. I could not keep up with the demand, and supplies were hard to come by. I put the word out that I needed materials, and people responded. My friends, family, fellow steamfitters, volunteer firefighters, and neighbors all sent me material to continue to make the masks. I started slowly, but I was soon making enough masks to fulfill all of the requests. I was able to send masks to anyone who requested them. I mailed masks all over the U.S. and Canada. I even had a request from 12 Green Berets down south. That was pretty cool! One evening while watching the evening news, I looked up to see a Senator wearing one of the masks I had made. I’m not sure how he received it, but I was sure it was mine because of the unique pattern and material that I used.”

            Julio made the masks at no charge, but some folks did send money to cover the shipping costs. His local fire department, as well as others, gave donations to cover the materials he purchased. He had made hundreds of masks when the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies started to be delivered to hospitals, alleviating the shortage, which slowed down the requests. However, once the city required that masks were a mandatory PPE piece, Julio’s mask requests spiked again.

            “Today, masks are available everywhere,” Julio added. “I’m still making masks for people who want them, but since I’ve gone back to work, I don’t have the time that I did before. I just finished 250 mask alterations for a Connecticut fire department, and I have another 150 on my to-do list for my fire department in Putnam Lake. I’ve sewed over 1,000 masks, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of my wonderful wife, who kept me fed with bacon and made me lots of coffee. She was my Logistics Manager, handling all of the orders, shipping addresses, and correspondence. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, my friends, and family members, or without the materials and donations I received. I will forever be grateful.”             Julio Reinoso was indentured on August 1, 2011. Local 638 President Pat Dolan describes Julio as an active member who always attends union meetings and asks if he can help. Brother Dolan said, “With all that is going on in our country and in our local union, this story is a reminder that there are good people out there. Julio Reinoso is one of them, and he is a Local 638 member! We are so proud!”