Is JOANN Fabrics Really Offering Face Mask Sewing Kits?

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click to enlarge A St. Louis employee is very unhappy about the current situation at JOANN. - Mike Mozart / Flickr
A St. Louis employee is very unhappy about the current situation at JOANN.

Since our government has completely failed our health care workers by failing to provide them with proper personal protection equipment, the nurses and doctors on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 have been largely on their own out there.

Hospital workers across the country have been trying to sanitize and reuse disposable gowns and have been unable to use fresh masks throughout the day. Normally, a nurse would grab a new mask between each patient, but now they are being forced to reuse even crappy paper masks indefinitely because there just aren’t enough to go around.

The good news is that a bunch of Americans have stepped up to take care of our health care workers. Across the country, people are getting out their sewing machines to fabricate and donate washable masks for these medical professionals that they can at least wear over their other masks to protect them from fluids, etc.

So when news stories started coming out a couple of days ago about JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores offering materials to sewers to make masks for the cause, many were overjoyed. People want a way to help, and it seemed like JOANN was making it easy on them. They even promised to deliver the masks to places that needed them. All a customer had to do was to show up, pick up some kits, sew them and return them to the store.

That meant that some employees would have to be working at the stores, of course, but JOANN’s website said this:

“JOANN teams in our stores will be on hand to ensure we are following government-recommended social distancing guidance. And we will routinely sanitize our work areas and keep the equipment clean.”

We called a local outpost of JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores today to get more information about the program (For example, were employees now meeting customers outside like all of the local restaurants have been doing with curb-side service?) and we found much more information (and disappointment) than we were expecting.

An employee we spoke to was beyond frustrated with the situation and work conditions, describing a long list of troubling conditions. Here's a summary of the employee's complaints:

- Employees are being told they must come into work during this pandemic (even though the St. Louis area is currently under orders to "stay at home"). Management is telling employees that the stores are “essential” like hospitals, because they sell fabric that could be made into masks.
- Management is telling employees that they can’t wear gloves while on shift and to just wash their hands frequently instead.
- Management is not giving employees breaks to wash their hands frequently because they are understaffed.
- JOANN said it would be donating supplies to stock stores with face mask kits, but no kits have been delivered to the St. Louis area.
- Employees have been instructed to tell callers that they’ve run out of face mask kits, when really none were ever available.
- Employees have been instructed to tell callers that there is plenty of material available to make masks, but not to mention that they are completely out of elastic.
- JOANN is reassuring customers that surfaces will be cleaned frequently, but employees are too busy with hundreds of customers per day to sanitize property.
- Sanitizing materials are expired. (In one instance, the sanitizer expired in 2012.)
- JOANN has disabled Instagram comments because customers were commenting with concerns about the safety of employees who were being asked to come to work.

The employee we spoke to said that a local JOANN staffer had recently walked out during her shift because customers were not obeying social distancing guidelines in the checkout lane and managers were not enforcing it.

The employee also said that everyone there was worried about their customers, most of whom are older and seem to not understand the gravity of the situation. They worry that JOANN stores could become hotbeds of virus-spreading because of the lack of consistent surface cleaning combined with the advanced age of most of their customers.

Disturbed over the lack of care for the employees and the customers, many employees were planning to take a leave of absence starting tomorrow in hopes that the stores wouldn't have enough manpower and would be forced to shut down. (It appears that other JOANN employees across the country have also tried the same approach.)

We checked JOANN’s Instagram page and it does, indeed, look like they shut down Instagram comments just two days ago and that the comments before that were mostly from people who were concerned for the well-being of JOANN employees. It looks like they’ve had a harder time keeping guard over Facebook comments, because we found many on the site earlier today asking for mercy for JOANN employees. We’ve included a sample below.

We also contacted JOANN’s corporate offices for a response to these allegations and have yet to hear back. We will update this story if the company responds.

In the meantime, if you already have the supplies at home, there are instructions on how to sew masks uploaded onto the JOANN website. Your health care workers still need you; they just don't need you to go to a busy fabric store.

Stay home. Sew. Save your country.

UPDATE March 26, 2020: We still have not received a response from JOANN's corporate offices, but we have received emails from many JOANN's employees across the country that have backed up the claims of our original source.

Email the author at [email protected]
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About The Author

Jaime Lees

Jaime Lees is a digital content editor for the Riverfront Times.
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