From Dresses to Masks

By Steve Blanchard - July 03, 2020

Vicki Castells has always answered the call for help. Whether it was sewing pillow dresses and shorts for children in Central America or making blankets for the Humane Society, she put her talents to work. So when she learned that Moffitt Cancer Center was in need of masks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew what she had to do.

“I belong to a sewing group at church called Little Dresses,” said Castells.. “So I had a lot of leftover fabric and focused on making face masks.”

When she sews, Castells said she doesn’t use patterns, mostly because she can’t see them well. She is legally blind.

“I can admit that I sew pretty well for being blind,” Castells said. “I grew up in the north and was allergic to wool and feathers, so that’s why my mom and I had to make my clothes. We didn’t have synthetic fabrics back then so we had to find an alternative.”

In May she donated nearly 350 masks to the cancer center, 245 of which she made herself. She was inspired to donate after her friend Linda Akins, a volunteer at Moffitt, shared the cancer center’s call for donations.

“I do a lot of sewing, and when I heard about the need for masks I couldn’t say no,” said Castells, 72. “I’m in the middle of a move right now otherwise I would have donated many more. I’m passionate about it and it’s my form of entertainment. I plan to make more and donate them later this summer.”

Castells says that because she’s legally blind, she doesn’t watch much television and can’t travel about town easily without assistance. So sewing has always been a creative and entertaining outlet for her ever since her mother taught her to sew at age 11.

The masks aren’t difficult to make, she said, but admits that a shortage of elastic made the process frustrating.

“I’d have to sit at the machine for hours making ties,” she said. “When everyone got on the sewing bandwagon elastic wasn’t anywhere to be found. So I had to get creative.”

Castells has always used her skills in philanthropic ways.  Prior to the pandemic she took part in missionary trips to Nicaragua, where she taught young, pregnant rape victims how to sew. She said it’s her hope that these young girls will use the skill to make a living for themselves. It’s something she hopes to return to in the future.

But for now, the Tampa resident is happy to use her craft room to answer the call of healthcare workers.

“I am a widow and I’ve raised seven kids, so I have nothing to do now,” Castells said. “It’s time to give back and I can’t just sit still.”

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