AIDS Memorial Quilt Scraps Being Used to Make Face Masks

"I’m not used to sitting around and not helping people."

Any leftover scraps to dry our tears?

With the CDC recommending all Americans wear cloth face masks in public, some folks are getting very creative. And due to medical supply shortages, unlikely volunteers have been lending their sewing skills to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Now, as comparisons continue to be made between the coronavirus pandemic and the AIDS crisis, leftover fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt is being used to make masks, People reports.

In 1985, seeing a wall of posters that honored loved ones who had died from AIDS, activist Cleve Jones got the idea for a quilt that would serve as a memorial for the men, who were often denied proper funerals because of stigma.

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When the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt became a reality in 1987, and as quilt panels began arriving from around the world, Jones enlisted Gert McMullin to help sew.

“I started meeting people who were gone, when their panels would come in,” McMullin, 64, says. “People who I had never had the chance of meeting.” She still calls the 48,000 panels, which amount to 54 tons of fabric, “my boys.”

McMullin herself has created hundreds of panels over the years, more than anybody else. One of her first panels, honoring her best friend’s boyfriend, Roger Lyon, is part of the Smithsonian Museum of American History collection.

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McMullin is currently an employee of the National AIDS Memorial, custodian of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Reminded of past horrors, McMullin has responded to the coronavirus crisis by returning to her sewing machine and creating face masks using leftover scraps from the quilt.

These masks are being used by employees and residents at facilities run by Bay Area Community Services, which helps the homeless and those suffering from addiction.

“During the AIDS crisis, I could go and do something,” McMullin says. “But now, I can’t. I’m not used to sitting around and not helping people.”

The quilt recently returned to San Francisco after 20 years in Atlanta. The National AIDS Memorial had planned to display the quilt this month as a “coming home” celebration, Jones and McMullin say, but the pandemic has put those plans on hold.
 

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