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Nurses collect operating-room fabric that a retired couple is sewing into face masks for front-line workers

A retired couple takes fabric from operating rooms to make into face masks and other needed items.

Ellie Tarnoviski (left) and Margaret Morris (right) with the many sterilization wraps collected by healthcare workers at Pennsylvania Hospital. Morris uses them to make masks and other supplies to help homeless veterans and children and others in need.
Ellie Tarnoviski (left) and Margaret Morris (right) with the many sterilization wraps collected by healthcare workers at Pennsylvania Hospital. Morris uses them to make masks and other supplies to help homeless veterans and children and others in need.Read moreCourtesy of Ellie Tarnoviski

This summer, Pennsylvania Hospital operating room nurses Ellie Tarnoviski and Michael Cavacini were taking a break outside the building at 8th and Spruce Streets when they happened upon retired couple Margaret and Chick Morris, up from Florida to spend their summer at the Jersey Shore. The Morrises, who had an appointment at the hospital that day, had never met the nurses before, but Margaret felt moved to speak to them.

“Margaret said, ‘Thank you for all you do,’ and we said, ‘Aw, you’re welcome,’” recalled Tarnoviski, 62.

The coronavirus was in full swing, and Tarnovski recognized that the blue masks the Morrises were wearing were made from the wrapping fabric usually used to cover sterilized medical instruments in the OR.

“She said, ‘You’re wearing our material. How is that?’” said Margaret Morris. She explained to Tarnovski and Cavacini that she was a seamstress and had been collecting the discarded wrappings from various hospitals and using them to sew things that can help others: face masks for hospital workers, aprons for people doing COVID-19 testing, mats and bags for homeless veterans, nap pads for kindergarteners in need.

Taken by Margaret’s caring nature, Tarnovski asked if Margaret could use more of the wrappers.

“I’ll take anything you can get,” Margaret said. They exchanged phone numbers, and Tarnovski and Cavacini put out the word among their colleagues, who enthusiastically responded by collecting hundreds of the blue wraps, which usually end up in the trash. There were so many wraps that Tarnoviski could barely fit them in her car when she delivered them to the Morrises near Sea Isle City. A second batch soon followed.

The couple quickly got down to business. Margaret, 75, and Chick, 76, work as a team. When they make masks, for example, Margaret sews, and Chick turns everything right-side out and cuts the masks apart so Margaret can keep sewing.

“He’s wonderful,” Margaret said.

Even before the Morrises headed back to Florida this fall (where they’ve lived since 2002, when they retired), Margaret had sewn 200 masks for health-care workers at Pennsylvania Hospital and donated fabric to a friend’s daughter for use on a mission to Africa.

“She’s just very giving,” Tarnoviski marveled. “She spent her entire summer making things for other people.”

Margaret is a believer that life bestows an inexhaustible yield of blessings.

“I could never in my whole life give thanks enough to all of the people who have been so beautiful and wonderful to us,” she said.

The Morrises have roots in this area. Before moving to Florida, they lived in Pitman, where they raised their two boys, and worked in the Washington Township School District — Margaret taught home economics; Chick, auto and wood shop.

“When I was teaching, I found the best thing I could do for my children was to give them a way to help other people,” she said. “Even when I taught middle school ... we would always do community service.”

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, Margaret had her students make hearts thanking the NYPD, FDNY, and Port Authority Police Department for their service. She and Chick drove from Jersey to a New York police precinct to deliver some of the hearts. To their surprise, they were given a tour and treated like honored guests.

“They were so wonderful to us,” Margaret said. “You just can’t say thank-you without being blessed 1,000 times.”

The Morrises felt the same warm reception when they met Tarnoviski and Cavacini for the first time outside Pennsylvania Hospital.

“We said, ‘We guess we were meant to be friends,’” said Margaret.

The Morrises are now back in Florida, but Tarnoviski, is already looking forward to their return to Philly next summer.

“Margaret’s going to contact me when she comes back and we’ll just start saving the wrappers again,” she said. “It made the staff in the OR feel good that they were doing something for the community instead of putting [the wraps] into the trash. In such a crazy world, we were able to contribute and up-cycle what we use, and we were able to help people.”

And even more than that, “I have two new friends,” she said. “I have Chick and Margaret because I had this chance meeting outside the hospital.”