Gary Ballew and Sam Sweetman

Sam Sweetman said she learned how to sew at age 8 by reading instructions. Those skills, along with an innate sense of independence and giving, are still with her.

Sweetman is a member of GVR’s Clay Studio and enjoys ceramic art. Since the Clay Studio remains closed, when she heard about the need for masks her sewing skills kicked in and she had plenty of fabric in her stash.

After making 400 masks and wondering what to do with them, who needed them and how to distribute them, she approached Gary Ballew, who she knows as a Clay Studio instructor. She asked him to help with giving them out to groups that needed them.

Ballew knew some local non-profits and approached them. Yes, they needed more masks!

Some Green Valley Fire District and Rural Metro stations, the Salvation Army, The Animal League of Green Valley and the Amado and Green Valley Food Banks all said they needed more masks.

As of May 17, Sweetman had made 412 masks and Ballew has handed out 323 of them.

With a variety of fabric to work with Sweetman said she had everything she needed including copper wire and elastic.

Her supply of elastic was left over after she made 100 dresses for “Little Dresses for Africa,” a non-profit Christian organization that shows little girls in Africa they are valuable.

Ballew’s background made him an ideal person to hand out masks to anyone who needed one.

“I grew up in Independence, Oregon. We had no electricity. Three families lived in one house, and we thought this was normal.

“We need to be sensitive to what’s around us and help people who need help now,” Ballew said.

One day last week he stopped at the Amado food bank and noticed no one in line wore a mask.

“When I asked people if they would like one, everyone said yes, and I handed out masks.”

He also stopped in at local Bank of America and Wells Fargo branches where masks were also absent and he handed them out to fill the need.

Though Sweetman is the one who handmade more than 400 masks and packaged each in a small zip plastic bag she said, “Gary deserves all the credit.”

Teased with, “What would Ballew have to give out if you hadn’t made the masks?” her response was, “I just like to make masks. I’m very good at repetitive work. Gary’s the story.”

She’s awaiting the arrival of another order of elastic and then it’s back to mask making as the need lasts.

Contact Green Valley News freelance reporter Ellen Sussman at