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Denise Zachmann, the kindness behind the mask

May 12, 2020 | Heart At Work

Denise Zachmann, wearing a face mask.

You could call it the kindness behind the mask. Since 2008, a sewing team has been meeting regularly within Aetna headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. Their basement location is equipped with supplies, sewing machines and sergers — sophisticated sewing machines generally used to make quilts. Beginning with a core group of five volunteers, the team has grown to 40 volunteers led by 24-year employee and Aetna Volunteer Coordinator Denise Zachmann (who runs about 40 volunteer projects a year and holds down her job as an executive assistant in Government Marketing).

Usually volunteers focus on head scarves for cancer patients, scent cloths for premature babies and themed pillow cases for children attending the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. During the COVID-19 crisis, volunteers are sewing face masks at home. Masks go to multiple area hospitals and medical centers where the need is great. When it comes to supplies Denise needs to be resourceful. She re-allocates fabric from other projects. Elastic is scarce, so the team uses ribbon, bias tape and shoe laces.

Volunteer Bo Hallowell has been with Aetna for 23 years. Her “day job” involves project management for Government Marketing, but lately she’s also putting in dozens of personal hours sewing masks for first responders in her Windsor, Connecticut, community. “I’ve got it down to a science,” she says with a smile. A flood of material donations, says Bo, “is a beautiful example of a community coming together.” For Bo the work is personal: her daughter is a part-time EMT, her sister is a pharmacist and two cousins are police officers. They are on the frontlines serving the public and she’s helping to keep them safe so they can do their jobs.

Bo Hallowell, making face masks using a sewing machine.
Sewing protective masks is personal for Bo Hallowell. Her family includes health care providers and police officers.

Says Denise, “Bo has taken up the gauntlet — sewing about 150 masks a week and distributing them to local organizations meaningful to her, including the Granby, Connecticut, Police and nearby hospitals.

The sewing team receives support from Community Affairs, which connects with Aetna’s 56 plus volunteer councils. “Their work is a prime example of Aetna’s commitment to be local,” explains Floyd W. Green III, Vice President, Community Affairs. “The cost to Aetna is minimal, but the elevation of our reputation is priceless.”

The Hartford sewing team is determined to do what they can to help others during this challenging time. We thank them for their skill and their immense generosity of heart to help their communities.

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