SOUTH SETAUKET, NY – Just outside of Long Island’s historic district in a converted farm building, a bus driver from Jefferson’s Ferry has set aside her keys and picked up her scissors to “do what’s needed” during the coronavirus pandemic.

For now, Manna Cali works from home, “in the water tower,” she says, cutting, sewing an assembling PPE gowns for health care staff at Bove Health Center. The water tower is actually Manna’s sewing room, where, since the start of the pandemic, she’s made about 300 PPE gowns.

Cali had planned to make facemasks for the healthcare staff until Linda Kolakowski, VP of Resident Life explained they had more than an adequate supply. What they needed, she explained, were gowns.

Cali went to work. She made a simple pattern for the gown and quickly fine-tuned an efficient assembly process. Kolakowski keeps her stocked with fabric by ordering and delivering rolls right to her house. One, 40-yard roll of fabric makes about 16 gowns.

“Manna exemplifies the huge-heartedness and adaptability our staff is known for,” said Jefferson’s Ferry President and CEO Robert Caulfield.  “We were not surprised when she stepped up to help keep the Bove Health Center staff safe by sewing some much-needed PPE gowns.”

Jefferson’s Ferry transportation driver, Manna Cali at home in her “water tower” sewing room,  making PPE gowns to donate to Bove Health Center.

“I’ll sew gowns until things open back up and I can do my regular job again,” she says.

More than anything, Manna says, she misses the people at Jefferson’s Ferry. “Over 10 years I’ve grown very fond of the residents, and thoroughly enjoy helping them every way I can.”

Manna comes from a family of sewers. She uses her 50 years of sewing expertise to help other local organizations and friends stay safe and comfortable while wearing PPE. She made headbands with buttons affixed to each side so the mask’s elastic ties wouldn’t hurt the ears of her cousin and co-workers at New York Cancer and Blood Specialists. She’s sewn and donated masks to other health care workers.

Jefferson’s Ferry is an award-winning, wellness-focused life plan community – the first on Long Island – inspiring those 62 years-old and better to live retirement their way through health programs and personal training, lifelong learning, social and cultural experiences, outdoor amenities and gardening areas, and access to hobbies and creative pursuits. Apartment and cottage homes are available, along with onsite medical services, assisted living, short- and long-term rehabilitation and memory care services. Expansion plans are underway for new independent living apartments, a marketplace and bistro, a health and wellness center, and more. Visit or call 631-253-7950 for more information. Jefferson’s Ferry is located at One Jefferson Ferry Drive, South Setauket, NY 11720.

Manna Cali’s headbands have buttons sewn on the sides so the facemasks’ elastic ties wouldn’t chafe healthcare workers’ ears.
Manna Cali’s headbands have buttons sewn on the sides so the facemasks’ elastic ties wouldn’t chafe healthcare workers’ ears.

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