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Kennebunk Savings Makes Masks for First Responders

Kennebunk Savings Makes Masks for First Responders
By Amy Miller

In different times, you might think you were hallucinating if you went by the drive-up at the bank window in Eliot and saw employees inside working at sewing machines.

But in April of 2020, you can guess that the bank tellers, managers and loan officers at Kennebunk Savings are making fabric masks, items now in high demand as protection against sickness. Inspired by a new non-profit that makes masks for virus protection, the seven employees at the Eliot bank branch have made 200 masks during their workday since the bank effort began earlier this month.

"We have ebbs and flows in our days because the lobby is now closed", said Robert Fischer, Branch Manager. "This allows us to be productive and busy during down times and certainly makes for great conversation when customers see us at work." The Eliot branch's undertaking was inspired by mask-making at the bank's Main Street Branch in Kennebunk, which has also been making masks since March. Fischer heard about the effort at the Main Street branch and suggested Eliot do something similar.

As it happened, Anne Raitt of Eliot, a Lead Customer Service Assistant, had a direct connection to the Seacoast Mask Makers, an organization whose mission is to make as many masks as possible for care providers and service workers in this area. Lisa Raitt, Anne's sister-in-law, is the Eliot organizer for the Mask Makers, which has made more than 30,000 masks for 185 organizations since it began on March 21.

So Anne contacted Lisa and arranged to have mask-making kits sent to the bank, where a closed lobby and fewer customers leaving home has given employees extra time. 

"Ive been sewing for years and what a better opportunity to use this skill than sewing masks at work", said Raitt.

Branch employees set up stations for cutting, pinning, sewing and ironing. They now take turns in different parts of the process, with proficient sewers assigned to the machines, and they send the masks back to the Seacoast Mask Makers to distribute. Recently the branch started supporting York County Community Action, which serves people in need in the community.

Seacoast Mask Makers receives new requests daily and is continuing to make and provide masks for organizations in the area. Places that want masks for employees, can fill out a form available through their website at seacoastmaskmakers.org.

Although the mask project began with the staff in Eliot using Seacoast Mask Maker kits, which included fabric and elastic, the group now has supplies they have gathered themselves.

Fischer's mother, an avid seamstress, has donated fabric and was able to get her hands on a good amount of elastic, which is one of the items in short supply now as people worldwide make and order masks.

"Material seems to be in abundance, but elastic is the hard thing to find," Raitt agreed."

In fact, employees at the Kennebunk Main Street branch have made more than 250 masks, both in the lobby of the bank and sewing at home, but the effort has slowed down recently because they have had trouble finding more elastic.

Masks from Kennebunk have been distributed among employees, customers, and local health care facilities, according to Theresa McKeefrey of Kennebunk, a Customer Service Assistant at the bank who inspired the project.

McKeefrey was making masks at home in mid-March for anyone who asked, but the demand got too large for her. 

"It got so big I asked my coworkers if they wanted to help and by the next day they had ironing boards and sewing machines and buckets of fabric at the bank," she said. Not every week has been leisurely for bank staff. When the government's stimulus program opened up, employees worked overtime to get as many loans processed as possible before the money ran out. Over a two-week period after Congress passed the stimulus package, the bank processed more loans than it typically does in a year.

"They worked straight through weekends and late into the evenings, sometimes past midnight to get the loans in before the money ran out," said Fischer. "It was quite an effort to do a year's worth of loans in 14 days."

Bank managers say the mask project is a natural extension of the bank's longtime focus on giving to the community, a focus that included donating more than $1 million to local nonprofits just last year.

"Employees are really given a fair amount of latitude to be creative in the way we provide service, which can be through charity or direct customer service," said Mark Ross, a Retail Market Manager for the bank.

Employees spent a total of 10,600 hours volunteering last year. Most of that was on their own time, although the bank gives everyone eight hours paid leave to volunteer.

"That's just what we do and we are very proud of that," said Jennifer Radel, Public Relations and Communications Manager at Kennebunk Savings. "We have a strong commitment to our community, that's is part of our company culture. Making masks is really in line with our values."

"We will continue to do this as long as it makes sense," Fisher said of the sewing project. "We are building a new sense of teamwork. It breaks up the day and we are getting a lot of positive comments."