Making Masks and Lifting Spirits at Whitman College

Dining services staff poses with a commemorative quillt

Members of the Bon Appétit at Whitman team pose with Debbie and her quilt, while wearing the masks she made for them.

In the Spring of 2020, as the pandemic spread across the country, Debbie Walker, a full-time dishwasher at Whitman College’s Cleveland Commons found herself temporarily furloughed and with a lot of newfound free time on her hands.

Woman stands next to commemorative quilt

Debbie Walker with the commemorative quilt she made out of leftover mask-making materials.

Debbie, who has worked for Bon Appétit for 21 years, hoped for the quick return of Whitman’s students, and set about preparing to arm the Bon Appétit at Whitman team with masks, which were in short supply at the time. She picked up bolts of fabric, and bunches of elastic bands, and began sewing. By the time she was done, Debbie had created 75 masks of varying designs, each for different groups of culinary team members – sandwiches on the masks for the cold prep cooks at the deli, coffee cup masks for the baristas, and so on. Debbie gifted the masks to all of the Cleveland Commons employees after the team returned to campus, and they became an instant source of joy and camaraderie.

After completing the masks, Debbie was left with quite a lot of leftover mask-making material, and decided to create a quilt memorializing the challenges that she, her co-workers, and so many others in the foodservice industry experienced in 2020. “This quilt is like an item put into a time capsule,” says Debbie. “…it will not be forgotten, how it [COVID-19] changed all of our lives.” The quilt now hangs on a wall of the Cleveland Commons, “a gift,” Debbie says, to the Bon Appétit team, and entire Whitman community.