Ford retiree Bernice Malinowski of Detroit has been sewing her whole life, so when the COVID-19 crisis presented an opportunity to help, she just did what came naturally.
Malinowski, a former sewing machine operator and millwright for Ford, has been sewing masks for the Detroit community since the onset of the pandemic. She has donated more than 500 masks to the city’s police department, nursing homes, family and friends, neighbors and, in some cases, complete strangers on the streets.
“I started doing this as soon as I realized we were going to need masks back in February,” she said.
It can take 10 minutes to make each cotton mask separately, but Malinowski has taken a Ford-like approach to speed production.
“I do it the assembly line way, the Ford way,” she said. “It would be so laborious to do them individually.”
The coronavirus outbreak has strained supply chains in many industries and has even had an effect on Malinowski’s efforts. But whenever she is short on material, Malinowski has a network of fellow sewers she can depend on. A friend has provided drapery linings to make ties for her masks, a great substitute for elastic, which is in short supply, she said.
Malinowski learned to sew at 6. Her first job at Ford involved tacking vinyl or leather onto the rubber backing of a car seat, before she moved onto French seams and later to welt cording.
“I’ve been sewing literally my whole life,” she said.
Malinowski, who retired in 2008, also spent time on the assembly line and as a millwright at the Sheldon Road plant in Plymouth Township, Michigan. Seeing Ford’s response to the coronavirus crisis makes her proud to have worked for the company.
“I feel very blessed,” she said.