Air Force veteran Darlene Tryon

Air Force veteran Darlene Tryon of Gilbert feels it’s a matter of patriotic duty to make as many masks as she can.

Until early March, U. S. Air Force veteran Darlene Tryon’s junior high school sewing skills didn’t amount to much. In fact, they were downright rusty.

But when the need for cloth masks to protect against COVID-19 was made known, the Gilbert resident sprang into action.

It was “just like riding a bike. I got right back on and picked it back up like a pro,” said Tryon, who has so far made more than 2,000 cloth masks with pockets from her home in Power Ranch.

Her drive, which she calls “Mask Up America,” supplies masks to health care providers, public health workers, firefighters, law enforcement personnel, veterans, military, truck drivers, food workers and others out and about in the line of duty. 

Banner Health, Veterans Administration, Power Ranch Association and Homeless Veterans are some of the organizations that have benefitted from her bounty. 

“I cannot just sit around and do nothing as this terrible virus erupted upon our land,” she said, simply.

Tryon hopes her work will inspire others to volunteer. The demand for masks locally exceeds 100,000, she said.

Tryon has been working day and night to make her impressive number of masks. She turns out four to five per hour, and depending on her day, makes about 40-50 daily. 

“I just keep going trying to do as many as possible and I just kept sewing,” she said. 

“With God by my side, anything is possible,” she continued. “He has guided me in this effort. Some nights I am up well after 4 a.m., because I know the need is real. If I can just be that saving grace for one person, I have done good. The more masks I donated, the more the need seems to become.”

She also volunteers at Banner Health inspecting N95 masks once a week and packs food at United Food Bank. Her mask-making began in March, when she felt that she must do something to help in the fight against the virus. 

 “After all, I was trained to fight, not sit back and hide in the trenches,” she said. “So, I got online and started searching for volunteer opportunities to help in the community and put my name down on every link possible to be contacted wherever I was needed.”

That’s also when she noticed a huge need for cloth masks.

Tryon spends her own funds for cloth, thread and other sewing supplies. With the addition of labor, she estimates a mask costs about $10-$20 to create. 

“I have always been taught it is better to give than to receive,” she said.

Tryon, a Mesa native, retired from the U.S. Air Force after 26 years as a Master Sergeant. She served in five combat tours, in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, along with humanitarian tours. 

Tryon is disabled, having developed breast cancer and PTSD in the military. She is a mother of three veterans as well.

Since her retirement from the military and the VA Medical Center 15 years ago, Tryon has spent hours volunteering in the community and veterans groups, including the Gilbert Veterans Committee and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

“Volunteering is often a life-altering experience and one that shouldn’t be missed,” she said.

It’s particularly important now.

“I am a veteran and my oath of enlistment did not expire the day I retired from the military. I take Covid-19 as a direct attack on America,” she said.

 “I swore that I would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Americans from all walks of life and professions have had their lives overturned from COVID-19 and it’s my privilege to protect them.”

How to help: Sewing skills are not required. She needs help with cutting material, pinning fabric, delivering supplies, monetary or fabric, elastic, thread.