A retired rehab nurse turned quarantine at her Florida senior living community into a mask making business.

Joan Bortz, who lives at Mount Dora, FL-based Waterman Village, turned to her 57-year-old Singer Spartan sewing machine to pass the time when the pandemic sent the community into isolation.

Bortz initially bought her own fabric for the masks, which include a special design to accommodate hearing aids, but word quickly spread and donations poured in. She received 69 cloth napkins from one resident, and a retired quilter offered surplus fabric. An anonymous donor left a box of baggies in her mailbox. Her skills earned her the moniker “Mask Lady.” 

“It wasn’t easy at first to find elastic, so at one point I cut up an old swimsuit to make the ear loops,” Bortz said. She has a collection of batik designs, all densely woven 100% cotton with high thread counts. 

She recently teamed up with resident artist Arlene Shoemaker to design a line of hand-painted masks, “some with bling.”

Bortz gave away 400 masks to employees and residents, then sold them through the community gift shop for $4 to $6. When the gift shop had to close, Bortz began selling the masks from her house with all proceeds benefiting the Waterman Employee Appreciation Fund. She’s made more than 1,000 masks in 90 designs.

“It’s a win-win, which makes me feel great and gives me something to do,” Bortz said. “I’m glad I can give something back to our staff who’ve worked so hard to keep everyone safe.”

Bortz’s mask making business inspired her husband Jim to incorporate fabric into a wood clock as a gift to her. On the back he inscribed “Joan’s fight against COVID … making face masks for family, friends, employees and staff at WV. Proud of you, Love, Jim.”

“The clock sits in our living room and is a beautiful reminder that there’s always time to make another mask,” Bortz said.

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