Seamstresses come to the aid of Brattleboro Mutual Aid Association

BRATTLEBORO — When the call went out to the community for help, Brattleboro's seamstresses and stitching groups responded in a big way.

The overwhelming need for Personal Protective Equipment has drained the supplies available to rehab and nursing facilities, those serving the most vulnerable in our community, with new Vermont Health Department guidance focused on all facility personnel wearing protective masks.

This has meant facilities' depleting already low levels of supplies.

“We posted our need for face masks and gowns on our website (, and literally within the first hour, we began hearing from caring community seamstresses who took up the charge,” said Dane Rank, an administrator at Thompson House, said in a news release.

Rank said that at Thompson House, a 60-bed rehabilitation, residential care, and outpatient nursing facility, “every last person here is acutely aware that we are what stands between our residents and the Coronavirus.”

The mortality rates in nursing facilities across the country are in the range of 30 percent of a facility's population, Rank said, adding that “we are all making decisions every day that affect the grandmothers and grandfathers of Brattleboro, and it is upon us to make good decisions.”

Those decisions start with good infection control, but good infection control begins with having enough PPE gear for staff.

“We ordered more supplies when the virus began to spill out of China, but even that was not enough,” Rank said. “All of our needed supplies have been ordered, but those orders are being put on hold while our suppliers re-stock. We have also sent our orders through the Vermont Department of Health, which is distributing the existing supplies, based on facility need.”

The bottom line, Rank said, is that “we just don't have enough.”

Enter the seamstresses.

“We put out a call for face masks and isolation gowns to our board and the community through our website and Facebook page, and several seamstresses and stitching groups have responded,” Rank said. “We are purchasing materials and getting them to those folks as fast as we can.”

Ideally, each employee would have two re-usable face masks to wash and alternate each day. This means 150 masks for the facility personnel, so that the existing supplies can be used for the residents in need. Rank said there are good face-mask designs available on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock website,

“We anticipate our next shortage to be isolation gowns, which we will need once we start receiving patients who have been exposed,” Rank said. “We have posted and are in the process of updating designs for these on our site as well.”

Thompson House and the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital were founded by the Thomas Thompson Trust, in 1907 and 1904 respectively, for the purpose of “serving the kind and kindred needs of seamstresses and shop personnel in Brattleboro.”

Thus, Rank said it is fitting that Brattleboro's seamstresses are coming to the aid of those organizations.

“I have never been so proud to be part of such a caring and generous community which takes care of those most in need,” he said. “We want to offer great and generous thanks to everyone who has committed to the effort during this crisis.”

Thompson House has partnered with Vernon Green, Holton Home, and Bradley House to distribute masks and gowns to all four long-term senior care facilities. Rank asks anyone interested in making masks or gowns to visit the Thompson House and Dartmouth-Hitchcock websites for instructions.

Donors are asked to call before delivering anything to Thompson House so that arrangements may be made to ensure sanitation and delivery to the appropriate personnel.

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