April 24, 2020

‘Little mission’ of retired firefighter and Holy Spirit parishioner leads to making and giving away of 2,800 face masks

Jim Donlan, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, assembles a mask on April 9 in the garage of his home on the east side of Indianapolis. In less than three weeks, Donlan and volunteers who have come to his home have made and given away some 2,800 masks that can be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher) 

Jim Donlan, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, assembles a mask on April 9 in the garage of his home on the east side of Indianapolis. In less than three weeks, Donlan and volunteers who have come to his home have made and given away some 2,800 masks that can be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher) 

By Sean Gallagher

Back in early April, Jim Donlan had a problem. Masks were starting to be used more widely in public settings in the social distancing effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a practice that was soon endorsed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem was that Donlan had a hard time finding masks for his family. So, like many other people, he started making them himself.

But he didn’t just stop at helping his family. Donlan and volunteers who have come to the garage of his home on the east side of Indianapolis have made and given away some 2,800 masks in about three weeks of work.

“This is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done,” said Donlan, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “There’s nothing better that you can give to somebody right now than a mask. Right now, people are scared of this virus and they’re looking for a way to protect themselves and others. It’s a selfless act to be wearing one right now.”

Donlan knows well what it means to be selfless. He worked for 33 years as a firefighter for the Indianapolis Fire Department before retiring at the end of February. He’s also been an assistant wrestling coach for the past three years at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t long after retiring that the spread of the coronavirus began to dominate people’s attention and significantly change their daily lives. While Donlan enjoyed being retired, he knew he could do more.

In addition to making masks, he’s now started working as a frontline medical worker during the pandemic as an emergency room technician at Community Hospital East in Indianapolis.

Donlan accepted the job shortly before the pandemic began making significant changes in daily life in the U.S. The threat of the virus, though, has not given him second thoughts about his new line of work.

“It didn’t change my mind about it at all,” Donlan said. “I thought that, more than ever, this was a time that I could serve a little bit.”

He reflected that his experience of three decades as a firefighter helped form him to accept danger in serving others.

“I was blessed by my job in the fire department,” Donlan said. “In return, I tried to give the fire department the best I had. I wanted to do everything I could in my power to maybe be the last line of hope.”

He looks on his efforts to make and give away masks modestly, calling it his “little mission.”

“It’s nothing special,” he said. “It’s just one more thing for many people.”

The masks that Donlan and those who volunteer with him make are composed of heavy-duty shop paper towels, coffee filters, pipe cleaners, staples and rubber bands. They cost about 10 cents to make and can be assembled in seconds.

The paper towels he uses, he said, have been tested and shown to be three times more effective than ordinary cotton cloth in filtering particles. Donlan also noted that the masks he makes are reusable and can be gently washed in water and air dried.

“The whole time that we’re in operation in here, everybody’s in gloves and masks,” Donlan said. “We’re constantly sanitizing the exterior of our gloves. I’ll sanitize the workstations three or four times throughout the day. We do our best to make the mask not be part of the problem.”

Anyone who comes to volunteer also has their temperature checked.

Just as Donlan takes a modest view of his efforts in making the masks, he also finds satisfaction in his work in small ways.

“If this would even be so lucky as to prevent one infection, it would all have been worth it,” he said. “Not one life. Just one infection.”

His modest selflessness in trying to help others during the pandemic was formed by his faith and his family. He’s the third generation of his family that has served as a firefighter.

“God’s been so good to me,” Donlan said. “So, any time that I can give back, I love the opportunity.”

While he spoke about his efforts from a work station in his garage, a fellow Holy Spirit parishioner, Mike O’Connor, came to pick up some masks that he was planning on giving to volunteers at food distribution points in Indianapolis for students now going without meals from schools.

“It’s the American way of sitting down and figuring out what each and every one of us can do and bring to the task,” O’Connor said of Donlan’s efforts. “I’m not surprised, having known Jim as long as I have. I’ve seen him jump in, whether it’s with the wrestling team at Scecina or other things. He steps up to the plate.”

Although living in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, Donlan noted, he’s confident that it will have a good effect on society in the long term.

“You’re going to look back and remember this time and how positive it was,” Donlan said. “It was scary, but positive. A lot of people are coming together.”
 

(To view a video of how Jim Donlan makes masks to be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, go to the Facebook page of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School at bit.ly/2JXoUh8 [case sensitive]. To learn more about Donlan’s efforts, to get masks from him or to volunteer, call him at 317-457-5608. He can also be contacted by e-mail at jamesdonlan83@gmail.com.)

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