Melissa Calvert stitched together the patterns of her life by leaps of faith.
The Greenfield Twp. woman was sitting down to dinner with her husband, Ryan, on a Friday night in March when she had an epiphany: she needed to start doing something for the community in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The mom to three boys — Sawyer, 6; Owen, 4; and Weston, 2 — and owner and seamstress of My Littlest 1, a handmade baby and toddler clothing company, felt she must put her talents to use and make masks for health care workers and others. She told her husband she would close her business for one week and try to get out as many masks as she could. Without hesitation, he agreed.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “People are dying. It’s a grim reality. It’s really bad, and I needed to do my part.”
Since Calvert paused her business five weeks ago to make masks, she has crafted more than 2,500 for the local community and beyond. Calvert — along with several volunteers who stepped up to help along the way — have worked around the clock to meet the need.
“I’ve definitely been in the hot seat a few times … but we find a way,” she said. “This is about something bigger than all of us.”
This wasn’t the first time in her life Calvert felt a calling to something larger. After earning a degree in finance, Calvert worked for the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation for years, where she loved helping people receive “the gift of life.”
However, when she had her first son, something urged her to stay home with him. While the financial part of the change would be tough — Calvert held the benefits for the family, and her husband’s 120-mile work commute was costly — he assured her they would make it work. Around that time, her husband received a company vehicle, and Calvert took it as a sign.
“He pulled into the driveway with a company truck, and I knew no matter where I was or what we did, God would be our refuge and He would provide for us,” she said.
The idea to start a business came out of a love of sewing. Growing up, she watched her mother and grandmother and dabbled in handbags and other small items. At 15, Calvert created her first piece of clothing: a Halloween costume of her favorite Disney princess, Pocahontas.
“It’s so amazing to see something you made from scratch,” she said. “You put your heart and soul into, and it comes out as this finished product. It’s an indescribable feeling to know that you made something.”
She started making baby blankets and newborn sets for others. As more and more people started to request handmade clothing, Calvert thought to marry her love of sewing with a way to help support her family. She decided to call the business My Littlest 1, which came from Calvert referring to Sawyer as her “littlest one” to distinguish him from the couple’s two dogs.
Over the past six years, Calvert’s business took off, and she’s made handmade children’s clothing for people all over. Two more sons also joined their family along the way, and she settled into a rhythm with community support and her own determination. Her customers were understanding when she posted in her My Littlest 1 VIP’s Facebook group that Easter orders were on the backburner so she could make masks.
“I was totally confident in myself that I would be able to do it,” she said. “Even if I needed to pull a heavy workload the next week, I know that I needed to do this and I could handle it.”
Calvert worked every day to make masks and fulfill her clothing orders. She started to make masks full-time as the need skyrocketed. Today, Calvert’s masks have ended up in New York City, New Jersey, California, Canada and Florida, although the majority have stayed in Northeast Pennsylvania.
“They’re right here at home,” she said.
As word spread that Calvert was making masks, more requests started to come in. There’s more to making masks than just sewing, though, Calvert explained, as the fabric must be washed, ironed, cut and sewn before being washed and ironed again. From there, the masks must be packed up, labeled and shipped out. That doesn’t even cover the time it takes to go through the requests and respond to each one, she said, as she received up to 20 messages per hour.
At some point, Calvert knew the need had gone beyond what she could handle alone, so she reached out to a few people she knew who liked to sew. Right now, about seven people create and send out masks to meet the community’s needs.
“I realized when it was time to pump the brakes,” Calvert said. “I needed help, and they were there for me. Now we’ve been working hard every single day to make sure others are getting the help they need.”
Mask-making wasn’t without setbacks. When Calvert realized how uncomfortable it was to wear the mask’s elastic straps around the ears for long periods of time, she switched to cotton spandex strips. They’ve also run out of materials, and she’s had to use new bed sheets.
Without volunteers, Calvert said she wouldn’t be able to fulfill the great need for the community. She’s eternally grateful for them as well as those who have donated to her cause. It also helps to have such a strong support system around her, she said, from her husband to her mom, Tami Cure, to her neighbor who sometimes keeps her sons occupied them for a few hours while Calvert gets work done. It’s been a challenge to run a household on top of homeschooling, making masks and her other duties, including once again taking business orders, but Calvert tries to keep this time as positive as possible for her children.
“I hope what they take away from this is that it’s not always about ourselves,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out there. It’s not always about taking care of ourselves but about being the hands and feet of Christ and a picture of love and to know that the most important thing you can do in this life is to be there for others.”
Meet Melissa Calvert
- At home: Calvert lives in Greenfield Twp. with her husband, Ryan, and their three sons, Sawyer, 6; Owen, 4; and Weston, 2. She is the daughter of Ralph and Tami Cure and has a brother, Ralph.
- At work: Owner and seamstress at My Littlest 1, a handmade baby and toddler clothing company
- Inspirations: “My inspiration to be a business owner started in high school when I joined Future Business Leaders of America with Mrs. O’Connor,” she said. “Now that I’m here, my family serves as (a) daily inspiration to continue to help provide for our household as well as the happiness I see through photos of little ones wearing their ML1 gear, which always overjoys my heart.”
- Aspirations: To continue to make a difference, to show others the love of God and to encourage them to see that they, too, can make a difference in the world
- Diversions: UTV rides through the countryside with her husband and boys; being in nature; spending time with her whole family, Italian-style, with big dinners
- Aversions: Sticky floors, “which is impossible to avoid with three small boys,” she said.
- Quote: “Whatever you do, may it be good and with all your heart.”
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT