[EDITOR'S NOTE — Difference Makers articles share stories of the local heroes making a difference during the extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This section is made possible by Eastwood Mall and named in honor of Mark Eckert, who made a difference in the Mahoning Valley.]
AUSTINTOWN — Many folks find themselves reviving old hobbies as a way to keep busy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barbara Matherly of Austintown is using her crocheting passion to help the community.
Matherly has crocheted about 600 mask straps — or “mask ear savers” as she calls them — for various healthcare facilities and essential businesses free of charge.
“When I first saw a picture [of a mask strap] I thought, ‘I could make something like that’ and I was compelled to make them and I knew that it had to be for free, there was no doubt about it,” she said.
Some of the recipients of Matherly’s crocheted mask strap donations include the Trumbull County Animal Welfare League, Akron Children's Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, Shepherd of the Valley as well as five local Dairy Queen restaurants.
“I’ve made as many as 30 or 40 for one person because they give them to their whole nursing floor, nursing home, Dairy Queen. [I’ve made them for] the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown. You can’t imagine the [number]of people that are asking from all walks of life,” she said.
Matherly's crocheted mask straps are made of 100 percent cotton yarn and have buttons on each side to secure the loopholes of face masks behind the head to relieve ear pressure.
Matherly, 66, had all of the materials needed for the mask straps in her collection before the pandemic.
"I had exactly the right kind of yarn and buttons that are needed to be PPE compliant," she said. "And the buttons were the right size. My husband got me a jar of them eight years ago."
"There are no coincidences," she added.
Matherly has used crocheting as a creative outlet for most of her life. She started “Hooray for Crochet,” which specializes in women’s clothing and accessories 18 years ago.
“I started crocheting when I was five years old, my aunt taught me,” Matherly said.
Matherly said she travels to various states selling her products at art shows on the weekends. However, a combination of recent health issues and COVID-19 pandemic has caused her business to operate remotely.
As of right now, her products can be found on the “Hooray for Crochet” Facebook page.
“I went everywhere and I had a lot of repeat customers at shows. It’s really neat and it’s a lot more than money. When someone would put on something that I made and they looked so beautiful, it always felt like I got a million dollars,” she said.
According to Matherly, about two years ago she was “very very ill” and her medication caused her to become suicidal.
“Had I succeeded, I wouldn’t be talking to you today nor would I have helped the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that I’ve helped by making this little band,” she told Mahoning Matters.
Matherly said she is “so blessed” at the response she’s received for making the mask straps and it’s allowed her to connect with the community.
“This has really boosted me and it has aided my healing because what I give, I’m getting back a thousand percent in every way,” she said.
According to Matherly, she plans to continue making mask straps until there is “no need” for them but doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime in the near future.