Women Who Hold Up Half the Sky During COVID-19

Samantha “Sami” Jo Jaffray with her family.

This is Part 1 of a series

Samantha “Sami” Jo Jaffray and her 2-year-old toddler Hattie handmade Mother’s Day cards in the days leading up to the holiday. Last Sunday, May 10, she delivered them with flowers, big print crossword puzzles and sweet messages, to the nursing home near her home.  

It was something she could do. 

For Jaffray, like for many of us, not to be able to give her own mother a great big hug or to stand next to her to take a photo with her to mark the holiday is a big adjustment. By nature, Jaffray is social and it’s  been tough not to be able to visit in the same way with her friends or  family.

So, following the road map that her mother and grandmother before her passing had given, she followed their practice not to sit idle, but to see what she could do to give a helpful hand to others. 

“I read online that those in nursing homes couldn’t have visitors. So, I called and asked what I could do. They told me that their residents are really getting bored and weary with having to be isolated and not being able to see their families right now. Their families aren’t allowed in,” Jaffray said. 

As she prepared her dropoff, she and her neighbors noted a man over the weekend standing in the hot sun selling flowers. So they spread the word to buy him out and did. 

So with arms full of flowers, Jaffray and others left their gifts at the nursing home’s entrance door.“They told me they got all kinds of stuff and they were really happy,” she said. 

“With just a little effort, it’s amazing how much we can all do to make things a little better.”

After that delivery, Jaffray drove to Lakeview Terrace for a very fast pitstop to see her mother from her large yard that provided a lot of social distance. 

She was anxious, however, to return home to finish the next batch of masks that are promised to add to the many hundreds she’s been making over the weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.   

These days, much of her work as a Costume Shop Manager and a Costume Maker at Los Angeles Valley College is on hold. She also has her own business — Cat Scratch Clothing and Accessories — that has sold her unique wear online and at public events.

Without public events and so much uncertainty, she placed a message on her website to customers to let them know that she would be “taking a break” for now.

Jaffray was most disappointed however for the Theater students at the college.

“It was heartbreaking for the students who had been working really hard every day and then all of a sudden ‘Bam’ it was really sad for them.” It was so disappointing when the theater production the  students had rehearsed daily for was  postponed. 

So like others who work in the clothing/costuming business, Jaffray took her skill and love for creating and started making masks, now too many to count. 

Since the pandemic hit and everyone had a need for masks, before she made them she studied what would be the best approach to making them, especially as she was donating them to hospital workers. 

“When I first noticed sewing groups taking up the charge to make masks, I saw there were other people like me who worked in costume design who started making masks,” Jaffray said. “But  there were so many conflicting articles about how to make a mask.

“I started working on them with a specific mask pattern, and people started contacting me to tell me about how much they were needed. One woman told me her about  sister who is a nurse and they needed them.”

So Jaffray studied the difference for the kind of mask that would be needed for a healthcare workers, and soon her husband was dropping batches off to hospitals. She’s now made masks for hospitals including the Children’s Hospital, dialysis centers in the San Fernando Valley, for scores of friends and friends of friends.  

“I have heard so many heartbreaking stories, including the most recent one of a nurse going into a patient’s room without a mask and she got the virus and died,” “Jaffray said. “One woman was crying when she told my mother that at the place she worked, she was just handed paper towels and told to use those as a mask. Another person working at a well known drug store shared that workers there dealing with customers were given one flimsy paper mask.” 

“I wanted to help. I saw people selling then for 15-20 dollars each and I didn’t want to be profiting off of people’s fear, so I gave them to post office workers, dialysis centers in San Fernando and it just started growing.”  

At first she insisted on giving her masks to anyone who needed one, and she would put her hand in her own pocket to pay the high cost of postage to mail them out. But after seeing Reverand Andrew “Andy” Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, on the news one night, she felt energized to keep going with a renewed purpose. 

“He looked like he had been up for days, so I decided I could accept donations and in turn donate to the Union Rescue Mission,” Jaffray said. 

“When I start to feel overwhelmed I think about my Grandma Thelma who taught me to sew when I was 7-years-old and [if she were alive] I know she would be doing this with me and telling me, ‘we need to do this, we know how to do this.’”

While it seems that the market has caught up and masks are now sold everywhere, Jaffray has found that they are still really needed in places that are unexpected and forgotten. 

“I’m now making masks for the Navaho Nation. They are really in need right now and I plan to donate masks next to farmworkers.  My maternal grandparents met in the fields in Oxnard, [and when I heard about volunteers from Pacoima going into the fields to give them supplies], I want to offer masks for them.”  

Jaffray is also making masks for people who currently work in homeless shelters. “They shared that they’re given medical grade masks, but they have told me that they are only given one, so having a strong cloth mask that they can wear over it, helps to stretch out it’s use,” she said.

Hospital nurses she’s found wear cloth masks in the same way. 

Making masks, has now become a family affair. So much so, that little Hattie wants to sew, too, and emulates her mom at the machine pushing fabric through the presser foot.

“I take the needle out first of course, and I have to lock the sewing room, because she wants to be in there and really loves it,” Jaffray said. 

Her rugged husband, Alan Evans, has started to sew, too.  

Watching her sewing for hours, he’d ask what he can do to help and would help her with errands.  

“At first when he asked me to help, he’d say, ‘I’ll do anything but sew,’ so I had him iron fabric. But [he found] it really sucks to iron in the heat, so he did what he said he never wanted to do — he’s sewing, which I think guys can be really good at because of the precision, and some of his lines are even straighter than mine,” Jaffray laughed. 

“When you think that by now everyone has masks, you find out that so many people still need them. This is a way I can help,” she said. 

 “After this is over, I want to know that I did what I could. I want everyone to have a mask to wear and use them, so that I can hug my parents again.”

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