Nancy Williamson’s passion for helping allows group's food pantry donations to approach $30,000
Hilton, SC (Paul Kirby) – The minute you step into the home of Nancy Williamson and her family, you can’t help but notice what a beautiful place it is. Its splendor is simply easy to spot. Even before you come in the door, you’ll have noticed the perfectly manicured lawn and neatly arranged table, basket, and a cute sign on her front porch. You quickly get the impression that Nancy spends a great deal of time making her surroundings and home environment just so.
As you enter the front door, her husband who’s working from home right now, comes from his office just inside to say hello. He’s welcoming and takes a break to introduce himself. The house in peaceful, quiet now, are there no children at all in their lives you ask yourself? There are plenty of them in pictures on the walls, they must all be out and about. There doesn’t seem to be a thing out of place. In short, it’s gorgeous and one has to wonder how much time it takes to keep it that way. You can’t help but wonder how much energy Nancy spends keeping her home and her life this perfect.
Just inside, Nancy stops to talk a moment in the foyer. Listening as she begins her extraordinary story is fascinating. In mere moments, you realize this woman isn’t about working hours each day to keep her surroundings perfect. Nancy’s a dynamo of boundless energy with a servant’s heart! She speaks in a fluid, bubbly manner, excitement for what she does evident in every word. If you’ve ever had the impression she vainly spends her time on anything, that thought simply flies away, quickly! This is Nancy Williamson, the “Mask Lady” of Chapin. A committed community volunteer, leader, and a whirlwind of energy when it comes to good causes.
Certainly, getting to know her doesn’t change the fact that the Williamson home is beautiful, but you immediately realize this perfection isn’t the focus of their family’s life at all. Yes, there are children, and one comes in and through, a whirlwind herself pausing just long enough to say hello. This is Nancy’s daughter, no doubt! Although the Williamson’s brood are mostly grown and away at school, large towels thrown across a chair by the pool suggest that the Williamson home host many young people who love Nancy and her husband’s hospitality and the warmth that permeates the couples beautiful home. Nancy’s heart is full of so much love that it simply must flood out, impacting everyone who comes in contact with her. You just feel it, she’s contagious! Nancy’s need to help others and everyone in need quickly infects those who come into her presence.
Her latest project is protective face coverings, masks. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nancy, her family, and some friends have been making and distributing protective mask almost everywhere. The further she leads you into her family’s home, the more you realize that like everything Nancy takes on, she’s thrown herself into this with all that’s in her. It has taken over a portion of that beautiful home. Her dining room has become sewing central as she and a group of ever-growing volunteers has made masks, beautiful, soft, and sometimes cute protective masks by the thousands.
In the beginning, she gave these away to people or groups in need. Later she decided that she’d accept donations for them and give the proceeds to the local community help center, We Care of Chapin. They would receive 100% of each donation. With Nancy at the helm, her group of volunteers has made enough masks and received enough in donations to give the food pantry and community helpers a sum now quickly closing in on $30,000!
All this started so innocently. Her husband wasn’t feeling well, they thought he may have the virus. Nancy needed a few masks for he and the family until his test result came back negative. Then, she learned a neighbor’s daughter who worked in a hospital upstate said that facility had run out of masks. Nancy had a sewing machine she hadn’t used in some time, but she pulled that out and re-honed her sewing skills. She watched some YouTube videos, did a little on-line research, and made some masks she shipped off to the hospital.
As much as the Williamson’s home conveys perfection, that’s not Nancy’s goal with her masks. “I’m not a seamstress by any means,” she said while we chatted. “These masks aren’t perfect by any means either. It even says that with the little bags we put them in, “We aim for protection, not perfection, we’re not perfect,” she quipped to the guy whose first impression was that she must be! Nancy says her now growing team, “Screwed up,” the first couple they made before coming close to perfecting in this manufacturing process now. She says that the measure of a good mask is putting it on and trying to blow out a candle. If you can, it’s not protecting like it should.
Why would I use the word manufacturing some might wonder? After all, we’re talking about a woman, her family, and a few friends making 30 or 40 masks to give away. The explanation is simple. As Nancy began making masks, God took over! He infected her heart with the desire to do more, something that’s happened many times in her past. Her masks making work quickly grew, and fast! God made that happen, but as it says in the Bible, He’ll never give you more than you can handle. As demand has grown so have the resources to meet it.
After the upstate hospital had received theirs’s, Nancy started making them for her neighbors. She posted on a neighborhood Facebook page she would do that and people responded. She’d make them masks, put these in a baggie in her mailbox, and people could just stop by and pick them up. Many wanted to pay Nancy. She’d tell them no, she just wanted them to be safe and have one when they needed it. “Some would leave me a bottle of wine,” Nancy said. “At the beginning of the crisis, someone left me a six-pack of toilet paper,” she laughed. “At that time, that was better than money!” she continued as we both had to laugh and agree.
At this point, God sort of just took this whole thing over. Her neighbor pitched in and began to help. Nancy’s sister Becky, a recently retired nurse, joined in and made the 45-minute drive from her Gilbert home to Nancy’s to assist as well. Sheila Veach, a caterer by trade whose business was slow due to the virus, began offering food. As the masks makers numbers grew, more orders came in and none wanted to stop sewing to cook and feed them all while they were on a roll. Sheila took care of that preparing the food so they could continue.
Nancy was very familiar with the local food pantry and help center We Care of Chapin. That little organization helps thousand each year with food, unexpected expenses, and many other services. Although located in Chapin, this organization assists people in need in many communities that surrounded their small headquarters on Chapin Road. Nancy helped with their annual golf tournament fundraiser but that had been cancelled this year because of the virus. Her children had also volunteered there with friends from Chapin High School and her son once sat on the board as the youth representative.
As people continued to insist Nancy take something for her crew’s masks, the annual community day of giving Midlands Gives was fast approaching. This day provides an opportunity for people from across the Midlands to donate to the participating charity of their choice on-line. Nancy finally struck upon the idea of allowing people to donate $10 apiece for her mask and all of that money would be donated to We Care during Midlands Gives.
Thinking she’d be able to raise a few hundred dollars for the pantry, Nancy began collecting the donations. A few days before Midlands Gives, Nancy and crew started one morning about 8:00 a.m. and continued sewing until 2:00 a.m. the next day. They chatted, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company as they made the mask. Instead of Nancy being the “Mask Lady” of Chapin, there’s now a whole crew known as the “Masks Ladies” of Chapin.
Not only were they making the We Care donation masks, they were still making them for others too. She sent a batch off to an Air National Guard unit that was in need. She sent some to a hospital in Indiana that said they were running out. She made some for Lexington Medical Center’s Labor & Delivery department, certainly they couldn’t go without. These aren’t certified, sterile PPE masks, but they are tripled layered and very effective. They could be used by volunteers and other non-patient contact staff so the sterile masks could be dedicated to medical care professionals.
Within a few days of beginning to accept the We Care donations; Nancy had collected $1,000! Midlands Gives was the following Tuesday and she thought to herself how cool it would be to double that amount by then. Her husband works for Dominion Energy and they have an employee program that will match an employee’s charitable giving up to $5,000. If she could make that $2,000-mark, Dominion would match it and the team could commit $4,000 to We Care during Midlands Gives. Then, Nancy could close up the sewing line in April and move on to the next good cause. That deadline came, a big donation was made, but the project had gained so much momentum, they couldn’t stop it now. Now, it’s July and the ladies and donations are still going strong!
Throughout this project, God has obviously been involved. When the team thought they’d run out of elastic, some would be found tucked away in a forgotten place. People would donate fabric or other materials, others their time and talents. Nancy set up “Masks Central” on her porch where you could get your custom made or already paid for masks from a little decorative basket or select one from a table full that has a grand assortment. There are special ones for children with themes from Frozen or other colors and designs appealing to them. There’s sports team masks like Clemson or USC, and lots of other choice depending on you taste. Nancy’s even mailed them to people who don’t live close to her Chapin area home.
More businesses pitched in becoming special “Masks Outlets”. Chapin Drug Company took some and sells them through their drive-thru as does Chapin Pharmacy. The Classy Cruet, a specialty olive oil and vinegar store, sells them at their Chapin and Lexington locations and you can get yours at the Gallery in Newberry, SEW Palmetto, or SOZO Fitness. Other businesses help and of course you can still get them from Nancy “Masks Central”” on her porch.
With the latest donation, We Care has received almost $30,000 to date. Dominion’s matches alone meant that business has given $10,000 as one of the other lady’s husband also works for that company and they matched his donation too. At this point, there seems to be no end in sight!
Nancy says she doesn’t really know where it will end. God is in control of that. She does know it’s been fun and very rewarding to her and the team. The ladies have backed off a little on the days they sew each week because they still have lives outside this project. They’ve decided they’ll just take this one day at a time and see where this lead. Right now, it’s led to a very good place.
The “Masks Ladies” of Chapin have included Rebecca Underwood Bittinger, Kelley McCutchen, and many others. If we took enough space to list everyone who’s contributed, the list would be as long as this story. “It takes a village,” Nancy said of all the help she’s received. “This village has rallied around this cause like nothing most have ever seen,” she concluded.
Besides the above listed pick-up locations, you can still call Nancy at (803) 629-0101. She says she’ll still masks if necessary. You can also still go by “Masks Central” on Nancy’s Porch near Chapin. That’s located at 228 Match Point Drive, Chapin, SC. It’s really worth the ride and who knows, you might just meet the bubbly “Masks Lady” of Chapin in person!