When the pandemic necessitated large numbers of facemasks, Mary Kay Williams pivoted her home hobby sewing business in that direction.
Williams, retired from Fike Corporation, started Kay-T’s Kozey's & More out of her Blue Springs home basement at a friend’s suggestion in 2018, using the skills her mother taught her as a young child in Independence.
"We’d been making a lot of adult face masks, for first responders, medical personnel, senior community centers," Williams said while seated at her machine. "After that, I was like, ‘We need to start making children’s masks.’"
With a simple search to find children’s organizations, she found Jackson County CASA – court-appointed special advocates assigned to advocate for the best interests of abused or neglected children. Jackson County has one of the country’s largest CASA programs, with about 350 volunteer advocates, and it aimed to gather 1,250 masks to provide to children they work with.
Williams decided that would be her next beneficiary.
"Especially when I heard (they needed so many)," Williams said. "Other places, I had donated 40 or 50 at a time."
"She reached out to all her sewing friends," said Terry Cain, who is Williams’ business partner.
That included Williams’ daughters and granddaughters, as well people she knows at Sewing Labs in Kansas City, which teaches sewing to children and other sewing novices.
"They stepped up and donated 300; they were great," Williams said. All told, she and her sewing friends have produced and donated more than 500 masks for CASA.
While CASA volunteers can’t make in-home visits with children right now, they stay in touch online and can drop off masks at a home, said Angie Blumel, president and CEO of Jackson County CASA.
"It’s really needed and appreciated," Blumel said. "Even for older teens, many of them have jobs or are returning to jobs that require masks.
"When we provide masks to the kids, it’s another way we show that people care about them.
"Last year in Jackson County alone, there were nearly 3,000 kids in the child care system (through the courts). We served 1,264 of them, and we’ve steadily been serving more and more."
Besides the active volunteers, Blumel said CASA wants to recruit about 100 more, as she believes need for child advocates hasn’t diminished during the pandemic. In the spring, the county’s children’s division reported a 50 percent drop in hotline calls, but Blumel said that’s likely because fewer places such as schools were open and children weren’t noticed as much.
"It’s not being seen in the community," she said. "We don’t believe abuse and neglect and necessarily decreased, as things open up more, we’ll need to be ready for more (calls and cases)."
For those under CASA advocacy, Blumel left Williams’ house last week with another large bag full of new masks.
After Cain cuts the fabric, followed by pleating and pinning, actually sewing takes relatively little time and Williams can have a new mask done in about 30 minutes.
Normally, she crafts cloth fabrics that can be used in the kitchen, like a cozy ("kozey" for her business’ sake) to help keep a soup or serving bowl warm. Pre-pandemic, Williams often sold some goods at the Drumm Farm farmers market in Independence, and she’s also made masks for the foster children there. Right now, she revels at being able to use a childhood skill to help many people. She plans to craft bunches of Missouri or Kansas masks for college students heading to campuses this fall.
"Terri said let’s do something homemade," Williams said, recalling how they first came up with Kay-T’s Kozey's & More. "I thought if I could start a business and have fun, that would be great."