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Palm Coast Friday, May 1, 2020 3 months ago

1,200 face masks and counting: Sharon Crunkleton, the one-woman assembly line

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Palm Coast woman dedicates hours every day to making face masks.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

With her background in manufacturing teddy bears, Sharon Crunkleton thought it would be a cinch to make cloth face masks to help fight the spread of COVID-19. Using a Bernina serger that was at least 40 years old, and a commercial Singer sewing machine that’s likely twice that old, she got to work, in her Palm Coast home.

She counted up her masks after a week or so and saw that she had just shy of 200.

“I thought, ‘Well, there’s still a need,’ and that fueled me to keep on doing it,” said Crunkleton, 72. “When I hit 750, I thought, ‘Might as well just go to 1,000 now.’ When I hit 1,000, I said, ‘That is going to be it.’”

But she decided not to put away the machines just yet. She couldn’t help herself.

“There’s still a need,” she said.

Within another month, Crunkleton hit 1,200, and she was awaiting more elastic to make even more.

She was hesitant to talk about her work because she didn’t want to sound like she is seeking attention. According to the bishop of her church, that is typical of her life of service.

“Sharon Crunkleton is one of the kindest people I know,” said Faron Sanders, bishop of the Palm Coast Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It doesn’t surprise me because that’s the way she and her husband have been their whole lives.”

 

Just keep sewing

Crunkleton began her sewing business, Goldilocks and the Bears, in about 1985 in Pennsylvania. She made teddy bears and dolls, as well as clothing for the dolls and bears, all in her own home, morning, afternoon and night.

The bears were so popular that she ramped up production to many thousand each year. She would spend days just cutting fabric for the fur, then turning to attach the eyes, like a one-woman assembly line — with help from her children.

Her husband, Ron, was integral to the operation; he built a 28-by-40-foot addition to their house to store her supplies. He also created a device to add the bears' eyes so it was easier on her thumbs, and made other helpful suggestions on improving her processes.

“He was the one that would put it in gear,” Crunkleton recalled.

She was on TV more than once, she recalled, to be interviewed as an example of reusing materials to help the environment. Rather than throwing away two-liter soda bottles, she bought them from people and filled them with chlorinated water to use as the inside of her teddy bears, which weighed seven pounds.

More than once, QVC asked her to sell her bears and dolls on TV, as well, but she declined.

“That just petrified me,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m so busy now.’ It was too overwhelming to do QVC. Can you even imagine? I had no life as it was.”

In about 2000, Crunkleton’s husband began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. At the same time, she was also burned out from her business, so they retired to Florida.

Sharon Crunkleton isn't sure how old this commercial Singer sewing machine is, but it's more than 50 years old and could be twice that.

She was relieved to be done with the teddy bears and dolls that had dominated her life. And yet, when she saw a commercial Singer sewing machine — just like the ones she used in her business — at an estate sale, she bought it.

It took four men to haul it into her home.

“It’s like a big boat anchor,” she said. “It cost me $200, and it would have been thousands. I thought, ‘I can’t go wrong.’ I couldn’t resist.”

For the most part, it sat in a kitchen nook, untouched.

 

Life in Palm Coast

In Palm Coast, Crunkleton taught children at church, year after year, almost always the 3-year-old Sunbeams class. As her husband’s mind deteriorated, he continued to sit with her in the classroom at church. They both enjoyed the children.

Sanders remembers the Crunkletons helping him paint his grandmother’s house, just because they wanted to serve.

Crunkleton cared for her husband until his death in 2018 — about 18 years since their journey with Alzheimer’s began.

Sanders conducted the funeral service in the chapel and spoke words of comfort to conclude the meeting. His own children had also been taught by the Crunkletons over the years.

Two years later, in her home in Palm Coast, she has none of her old teddy bears that she used to make. She has no sentimental attachment to them.

But there was something pleasant about finally using her old Singer sewing machine and her old Bernina serger.

“Some of the prints on the material reminded me of the good old days when I was doing my business,” she said.

If her husband were alive today, he would be excited about the mask project and would help her find ways to make it more efficient, just like he did with the teddy bear production, she said.

 

Stopping the spread

Sanders has been her delivery man. He picks up the bundles of completed masks from her home and gets them into the hands of health care professionals at hospitals, doctors offices and pharmacies through people he knows.

Each person who wears a mask is making an impact, she said, because if you have COVID-19 and don't know it, you could be spreading it many other people unless you're wearing a mask. That's significant for her, since she has had pneumonia more than once in her life and is among the high-risk population.

"One mask could prevent a lot of spread," she said. "That's my drive."

After making 1,200, Crunkleton ran out of fabric and elastic. The sewing machine came to a halt.

Until, a few days later, she ventured out. She hadn’t left her home in weeks, but then she found out the fabric store was open. She bought more materials, cut the patterns, and she now has a table full of more face masks to complete — a one-woman assembly line.

“I’m doing those right now,” Crunkleton said. “When I’m done with the next batch, it will make 1,400.”

 

Email Brian McMillan at [email protected].

 

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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