Shortly after the pandemic hit, Finger Lakes Community College student Kim Dey heard from a friend who works as a nurse at an area hospital and was worried about the shortage of masks.
“She said, ‘Kim, can you help?’” Kim remembered of that call in March.
Kim quickly organized a Facebook group, We Are In This Together – Sew Away Corona Upstate NY Palmyra/Macedon. It drew those who could sew, provide mask materials or support the effort with donations or connections. In the seven months since, the group of mostly Wayne County residents has made over 30,000 face coverings that have been donated to medical centers, police departments, schools, soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels, migrant farm workers and Native American communities.
FLCC is among the latest in a list of recipients that includes dozens more organizations, businesses and individuals as far away as Florida. Kim and her daughter, Emily, also an FLCC student, donated 1,000 face coverings to be handed out to students, faculty and staff.
“This donation is much appreciated and will be put to good use,” said Dawn Hess, director of environmental health and safety at FLCC. “We require face coverings in our buildings and sometimes our students simply forget or could use an extra.”
Dozens of community members helped gather supplies, sewed and distributed the face coverings back when the effort began in early spring. The group now has a base of about 30, including a dozen senior citizens, the oldest of whom is 92. The youngest Sew Away Corona helper is 9.
“Not everybody knows how to sew in the group, but everybody knows how to do something,” Kim said. “It has just been amazing.”
A local company heard the group was in need of elastic and donated 10,000 yards. Local businesses have donated fabric. Donation checks have shown up in her mailbox from people she’s never met. Kim’s three children have been her support crew, helping gather finished masks from the porch and prepare for delivery or shipment in the mail.
To those who know Kim, her leadership with the project is no surprise. She’s something of a community organizer, volunteer and all-around do-gooder. Every year she quietly leads a holiday gift drive for local children whose families would otherwise go without. When one of her son’s classmates died in a house fire this past winter, Kim organized a remembrance service at the Palmyra Community Center, pulling together donations of baked goods, a sound system, candles and Chinese lanterns to send up into the night sky.
While she’s reluctant to talk about her own good deeds, Kim concedes, “I have a passion for helping people.”
That explains her interest in a career in social work, something she’d been talked out of by well-meaning relatives in her younger years. Kim attended FLCC back when it was Community College of the Finger Lakes, or CCFL. At the time, computers were scarce and communication came not from email but by way of notes placed in student folders hanging in the corridors of the main campus.
She returned to finish what she started all those years ago, and found a campus transformed. “It’s was huge change going back, and then we got hit with COVID,” she said.
In the spring – while she was busy organizing sewers and locating fabric – Kim had doubts about her ability to keep up with classes online. Internet was spotty at her rural home. She and her children were anxious about the pandemic, especially so because she has multiple sclerosis.
Kim wasn’t sure who to reach out to, so she emailed FLCC President Robert Nye. He called her within a day and shared his own story of starting at a community college.
“He told me, ‘Whatever you need, we’re going to support you,’” she said. “Every time I’m feeling like I can’t do this, I think of him. He has my back, he has my daughter’s back. He is on my shoulder a lot, telling me, ‘We got this, Kim.”
The president isn’t the only one. Kim said she and daughter Emily “hit the jackpot” with supportive faculty and staff, people like Sarah Blank, coordinator of the FLCC Writing Center; Melissa Soules, disability services coordinator; Ryan McCabe, associate vice president for academic technology; and faculty members like Michael Van Etten, Kellie Gauvin, Izy Grooms and Susan Bennett.
“It’s like a family,” she said.
And that family is grateful in return.
“Students like Kim and Emily are the reason I love teaching,” said Kellie Gauvin, professor of biology. “They are both naturally inquisitive and eager to learn. When you add to this their desire and willingness to serve their community, it’s easy to see how they are a joy to have in class.”