From one pandemic to another

Gert McMullin is making protective masks using leftover fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

In 1985, San Francisco native Cleve Jones gave birth to an idea that eventually became the AIDS Memorial Quilt — a visual celebration of those who lost their lives to AIDS. But Jones couldn’t sew and needed a capable tailor to make his idea a reality. That’s where Gert McMullin comes in. McMullin began sewing pieces for the quilt in 1987; she has since made around 130 panels and helped thousands of people construct their own. Today, the Memorial Quilt commemorates more than 105,000 individuals in over 50,000 three-by-six-foot quilt panels.

In April, the quilt was supposed to be displayed at San Francisco’s National AIDS Memorial after spending the past 18 years in Atlanta under the stewardship of the NAMES Project. While the coronavirus pandemic postponed those plans, it propelled McMullin into action.

McMullin, who has already sewn her way through one pandemic, began using leftover fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt to sew hundreds of masks for another. The recipients are essential workers and members of Bay Area Community Services, a nonprofit that serves locals with health and housing-related assistance.

“The fabric we were going to use for people who died is now going to be used for people, hopefully, to live,” McMullin told reporters at ABC News.