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Mother taught 'help your fellow man,' now 89-year-old Mainer pays it forward by making masks

Bridgette Steltz of Kittery has made more than 1,400 face masks for people across the United States and has no intention of slowing down.

The things we learn as a young child help shape who we become. Growing up during World War II in Germany with parents who cared for refugees molded Bridgette Steltz into the mask-maker she is now. 

Around town in Kittery, Bridgette is known as Oma, the German word for grandmother. The 89-year-old is usually busy about town volunteering at the church, the thrift store, the school, or out with friends. Since COVID-19 changed the world, like so many people, she is staying home, but unlike a lot of us, she isn't wasting any time. 

Credit: contributed
Bridgette Steltz in 1933 at the age of two.

Bridgette, who was a seamstress all her life, got out her fabric and started making masks at the onset of the pandemic, and she hasn't stopped. She spends at least five hours a day sewing up a storm for anyone who needs one -- friends, family or strangers. Her more than 1,400 face masks have been shipped to hospitals up and down the east coast. 

Credit: contributed
Bridgette Steltz learning pattern making at night school in Germany.

Her family lived in Bramberg, in the center of Germany. During World War II, women and children were evacuated from areas across the country, and her mother took them in. Bridgette recalls having 15 people living in their small cape-style home at one time. 

Credit: contributed
Bridgette Steltz (far left) with her family in 1948 in Germany.

"Each family had a room, sort of, and we lived like that for a while," she recalled. In her family, it wasn't a matter of if you help but how. 

"My mom always said you have to help your fellow man," said Bridgette. She now wears a shirt that reads: I became a mask maker because your life is worth my time.  

Credit: contributed
Bridgette Steltz has sewn more than 1,400 face masks and counting.

And Bridgette isn't letting anything go to waste. With the scraps from her face masks, she has already sewn two quilts for her grandchildren. To other seniors, Bridgette shares some advice, "Don't sit at home and do nothing. Even if you just call friends. Whatever you can do, do it!"

Credit: contributed
Bridgette Steltz ironing in her grandfather's tailor shop in Germany roughly 1932.

And for anyone in need of a face mask, Bridgette says just let her know and she will make you one. 

Send any face mask requests to hfoye@comcast.net

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