As states continue to recommend or require citizens to wear face masks, the demand for tem during this pandemic has been overwhelming. In response to the need, Yvonne English, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I) at Grove City College and professor of Entrepreneurship, co-founded Stitch Brigade with Lynn Stillwaggon, program manager for the Center for E+I.
The two were inspired by their colleagues, Lois Johnson and Jennifer Gilliland of The Stan and Karen Johnson Office of Global Programs, who were already making masks for a shortage in Ohio. English observed a local shortage of masks and found a way to meet that need.
Because of her entrepreneurial experience, “I knew what I had to do to scale this initiative quickly to meet the need,” English said. “Stitch Brigade is basically a startup and that happens to be one of my areas of expertise.”
She set up a fund for the Stitch Brigade under the Grove City Foundation, which is affiliated with the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. “We were formed to address the COVID-19 mask shortage, but I wanted to keep it general enough in case there's a need in the future to bring people together to use their talents for good,” she said.
Since its founding in March, the group has made and distributed nearly 1,500 masks and currently has 53 volunteers: 29 “stitchers,” 16 cutters, six drivers and two marketers. As volunteer coordinator, Stillwaggon manages the volunteers and the production and distribution of masks for the program.
“I have been involved with organizing and operating entrepreneurial learning opportunities for our students since 2008,” Stillwaggon said. “I was honored when Yvonne asked me to join her in this effort and grateful to work alongside her and gain first-hand experience about leadership, lean startups, marketing and supply chain management.”
Though not officially associated with the College, “serving and helping our community goes hand-in-hand with what we stand for at Grove City College,” English said. Many of the volunteers are students, staff, administration, faculty or part of the campus family, including First Lady Brenda (Milican ’80) McNulty.
Most of the masks are going to local nursing homes, Allegheny Health Network hospitals and nonprofits such as Grove City Meals on Wheels, according to English.
The Brigade is accepting donations of money and fabric needed to make the masks. Because the Brigade was formed through the Grove City Foundation, donations are tax deductible and can be made through the group’s website.
“One thing I like about teaching entrepreneurship is the hands-on practicality of what I teach. Students can apply much of what they learn in my classroom to real-world situations immediately,” English said. “I hope that our students see this project as an example of how the skills and mindset that we champion can be directly applied to serve others and to meaningfully contribute to society.”