Tracy Fleming: sewing connections, masking infections

Tracy Fleming's board of masks is on the first floor of Lewis Recitation Hall (Ciara O'Brien / McDaniel Free Press).Tracy Fleming's board of masks is on the first floor of Lewis Recitation Hall (Ciara O'Brien / McDaniel Free Press).

At the beginning of quarantine earlier this year, McDaniel Staff Member Tracy Fleming did not even know how to sew. Today, she has made over 775 masks and counting. About 49 of those masks were given to McDaniel students and community members.

Fleming has fully immersed herself in the McDaniel community and has worked in many different departments throughout her years here. Starting out in the Department of Campus Safety, she worked as a dispatcher and sometimes still fills in from time to time.

“If you call campo this Saturday, I’ll be the one you are talking to,” Fleming said.

Now, students can find her on the first floor of Lewis Recitation Hall working as the department secretary for business administration and economics, department secretary for communication and cinema, and a human resources assistant. On top of her already busy schedule, she also just started a part time job at Joann Fabrics.

When COVID-19 began to take shape this spring, Fleming and her family had trouble finding reusable masks and disposable was the only option.

“I watched a YouTube video, got out my mom’s sewing kit, and figured out how to sew a square,” Fleming said.

After a while, masks for the family turned into masks for the entire community. She donated masks to her teacher friends all over the country, homeless outreach programs in Baltimore City, and gave 100 masks for her daughter to pass out to classmates at her college.

“Sometimes I leave a plastic baggie with masks in it for waitresses, hostesses, and cashiers… I found a pattern with postage stamps on it to give to the mailman,” Fleming said.

When students began arriving back on The Hill a few weeks ago, Fleming could not help but notice that some students did not have access to reusable cloth masks and only had one or two disposable ones.

“Obviously, my students have a need… When I say my students, I mean all of you across campus, not just [the students in my department],” Fleming said. She advertises her homemade masks in Lewis Recitation Hall, “I put up the bulletin board right before the first week of classes.”

Although Fleming does not always get to see students take the masks off the board in action, sometimes she can hear their excited reactions from inside her office.

“I can hear them in the hallway when they see new colors and new patterns…it’s cool to see people walking around with masks that I made,” Fleming said.

Although Fleming is giving away her handmade masks for free, she has received some financial and cloth donations from McDaniel staff and faculty members.

“So much has been donated… as long as it’s cotton I can use it,” Fleming added.

When asked what she wishes students knew about the challenges that staff and faculty are facing today, Fleming emphasized that they are working just as hard as students during such a difficult time.

“As hard it is for students, I think a big misconception is that professors are just working behind the scenes or that it is easier… we’ve been working all summer and lots of the faculty took summer classes to learn how to teach in an online format,” Fleming said.

“As a staff member supporting my teachers in these departments, it’s been hard on everyone.”

Another big misconception that Fleming noted is that most professors prefer teaching online. “A big reason a lot of people become teachers is to touch the next generation. When you can’t see the question forming on their faces, it’s hard to help them,” Fleming added.

Overall, Fleming is proud of McDaniel students and surprised that we have not followed in the unfortunate footsteps of other colleges and universities across the country that had to close down campus due to high case numbers.

“It really seems like students are following guidelines,” Fleming said.

Fleming’s mask board is located on the first floor of Lewis Recitation Hall and is restocked at least once a week.