When doctors and healthcare workers started to sound the alarm about the dangerous shortage of personal protective equipment, retired American pro Jill Craybas sprang into action.
Like most in the tennis community, Craybas remembers where she was when she heard about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells - one of the earliest signs that the growing coronavirus pandemic was going to disrupt the sports world in a big way.
Craybas, a former WTA Top 40 player and now a tennis commentator - and part-time chocolatier with her own line of chocolates - was en route to the desert for work along with her husband Raj Chaudhuri, a longtime tennis coach. The pair were in California about to make the drive down to Indian Wells when Raj saw the news while out to dinner.
“I was just completely in shock,” Craybas recalled, speaking to wtatennis.com via phone. “When I first heard that, it was a shock. Because at the time, we knew coronavirus was something that was progressing, but not to the extent that it would cause a big event to cancel like that.”
But when it all really hit home for Craybas and her husband was when the couple’s own family and friends soon found themselves on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic - and facing an often scarce supply of PPE.
“I started seeing on the news over and over again how many places were just desperate for masks and gowns and gloves, anything,” Craybas said. “And how the frontline medical personnel are really struggling to get anything in their hands.
“Actually, Raj’s sister and parents are all doctors. In particular, speaking with his sister - she’s a physician in Colorado - she was just saying that people don’t really understand the scale of how desperately they need these things.”
That immediately sent Craybas and Chaudhuri into action: “We ordered cloth the very next day,” Craybas said. “We wanted to make some masks for our friends and family right away. And we sent them out to our parents first, because they’re in that age group where they’re more vulnerable to the virus.”
Armed with their cloth and sewing supplies, the pair used a step-by-step tutorial found online (the one they used is linked here) to sew their own three-layer fabric face masks.
After supplying their friends and family, they’ve also made sure to send the masks to healthcare professionals facing PPE shortages. So far, the couple has sewn more than 300 masks - although in an ideal world, Chaudhuri said, no healthcare worker should have to use a hand-made mask.
“The goal was that this could be reserved for medical workers if they didn’t have the N95 masks or the proper PPE materials.”
The coach, who now heads up his own business selling a patented fitness product, also put his craft skills to good use by building makeshift plastic face shields out of a clear vinyl product. Those have been going out to doctors and physicians - including his own sister’s practice in Colorado.
“It’s actually not very difficult, you can probably pull one together in about five minutes, as long as you have the right materials,” he explained. “It’s not an appropriate PPE, but when there’s a lack of anything else, it seems like people are grateful to have that on hand.”
While they’ve been quarantined at home, Craybas and Chaudhuri have stayed busy working on their own projects, and make time to help their community in whatever way they can. They encourage fans to listen to the needs of their own local communities and do their best to contribute to fighting the virus - even if that means just staying home.
“If there’s something that anyone can do even in their own local community, that helps. Whether it’s making masks, or making sure the people around you and your neighbors have stuff to cover their faces,” Craybas said.
“It’s humbling to be able to contribute in some way,” Chaudhuri said.