Wearing hats from their Gratitude Bags are Cottage nurses Kaitlyn Esquer (left), Jenna Escobedo, Morgan Ward, and Celina Hunt. | Credit: Courtesy

Corona’s Year of Fear has taken its psychic toll on us all, but for medical professionals, the lurking presence of coronavirus in the workplace takes a special toll. One nurse on Cottage hospital’s COVID floor said, “You pray you’re not bringing it to your own daughter or husband or whoever’s at home.” After a 12-hour shift, said Bernadette McDermott-Lewis, most of them strip in the garage before going indoors, and they put their clothing in the washing machine before heading for the shower. “We have to be terribly, terribly vigilant,” she said.

McDermott-Lewis went on to explain that it’s not just doctors and nurses but the nurse assistants, housekeepers, transporters, and dietary staff who endure the same risks. As a member of the Santa Barbara Craftivists for Change, she talked with her friends about the worries she and her colleagues had, and the Craftivists listened with an empathetic ear as they gathered during Zoom calls to sew masks, which substituted for the weekly knitting meetings they’d enjoyed at the Public Market.

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“We couldn’t fix things for them,” said Teresa Bothman, “but we could let them know that they’re on our minds — that as they care for us, we care for them.” From that impulse came the Gratitude Bag, organized by Bothman, Rose Santellano-Milem, and Laurie Gross Schaefer — a reusable bag containing practical things like a snack, a hat, a mask, a note — but they’re special, each handmade with blessings for the mind and spirit to remind all the health-care professionals that their work is deeply appreciated.

Two hundred of these bags were delivered to staff members at Cottage hospital’s COVID and intensive-care floors and to Cottage Rehab. At the rehabilitation center, it’s the therapists who get COVID patients back on their feet after the ventilator with respiratory therapy and strength training, McDermott-Lewis explained. The Gratitude Bag project gained participation by members of the Knitwits, Montecito Library’s Knit and Needle group, and the Fiber Arts Guild and received support from Sylvia Molony and Dos Pueblos Ranch and the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara has the Craftivists to thank for the plethora of pink pussy hats that appeared at protests and rallies held after the 2016 election, and their work has spread into blankets and hats for immigrants and refugees. Since COVID landed, the facemasks they sewed have gone beyond Santa Barbara to the Navajo Nation and the Tarahumara people in Mexico. Extra hats from the gratitude project went to Warm the Line, a group in the Midwest to support people standing in line to vote in the election earlier this month. “It’s just amazing how you can start something from nothing and do so much,” Bothman marveled. “It’s truly rewarding.”

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