PALM HARBOR — The Crafty Ladies of Sherwood Forest, a small group of residents of the RV resort at 175 Alt. 19 in Palm Harbor, have been making afghans, quilts and blankets for friends, family members and veterans’ groups for many years.

During the coronavirus crisis, they agreed to use their sewing skills to help protect people instead of providing comfort and warmth.

Over the past few months, the Crafty Ladies have produced close to 1,000 masks for local hospitals and veterans’ organizations, and according to Jeannie Powell, the group’s pivot from quilting to mask-making stemmed from a desire to help others and to stay busy during the pandemic.

“It started with a request from the American Legion post in Dunedin when they asked us to make masks for All Children’s Hospital,” Powell said during a Sept. 1 phone conversation. “So, we did about 90 masks, and after finishing them, the head of ServiceSource Veterans Mall said they couldn’t host their fundraiser, and would we be able to make masks they could sell. We were in mask-making mode, anyway, so we said sure!”

Powell said the group is typically comprised of six to eight snowbird retirees, many from military families, but they have been operating with just a handful of sewers as some residents remained up north during the crisis.

“We’re kind of thin right now, but we do OK,” she said. “We’ve kind of got it down to a science now, where one cuts and one sews and one folds, and it doesn’t take long once you get going. It’s kind of fun. We say we’re sewing for protection not perfection!”

The Ladies’ efforts have not been lost on those they are helping.

“The Crafty Ladies of Sherwood Forest stand tall among the many volunteers and benefactors who support our Veterans Mall,” said Frank DeLucia, vice president of program development for the Clearwater facility that features “a huge storeroom” of home-starter kits filled with kitchen, bath, and bedroom essentials and health care supplies that are given to veterans transitioning from homelessness to apartment life. DeLucia said the Ladies’ handmade quilts have “provided the Mall with a substantial and steady revenue stream for years,” but he acknowledged their mask-making has elevated their philanthropic efforts to another level.

“Pivoting from quilts to masks seemed like a natural progression for these loyal Americans, many of whose spouses, siblings, and children served our nation with honor and distinction,” DeLucia said. “When COVID-19 surfaced, all our fundraisers and charity auctions were suspended indefinitely, bringing support from these fine craftswomen to a screeching halt. But in a strange twist, the coronavirus provided an opportunity to keep the Ladies actively engaged in something they love.”

He said the group refused to take any money for materials and noted in addition to supplying the mall with more than 500 “high quality, triple-ply washable cotton masks,” they also provided extra masks for children that were distributed to families with school-aged children at Duval Park, a veteran-supported housing community in St. Petersburg.

“We’re honored to be numbered among the military-support organizations they endorse and admire,” DeLucia said.

While Powell said the Ladies are still adjusting to their new roles as PPE providers, she said they’re grateful to be united for a common cause.

“The reason we’re doing this is the reward from being able to help during the virus time, especially, and we really don’t have a heck of a lot to do!” she said. “We feel like we’re doing something good instead of just sitting around, and we have a lot of fun, too.”