When they first heard about COVID-19 in Southwest Florida, Elke and Brian Podlasek, owners of The Island Cow on Sanibel Island, and their two daughters began sewing protective face masks for their close friends who work at Lee Health.

As the situation progressed, Sanibel businesses began to close and the couple’s popular family restaurant, The Island Cow, temporarily closed its doors too.

While observing the stay-at-home recommendations, the family had materials shipped to their house and quickly produced more than 1,000 masks to date.

They were even able to secure the precious N95 protective material to place inside the masks, ensuring they are safe for use in the health care setting.

“The nurses, doctors and health care workers at Lee Health are on the front lines exposed to the coronavirus every day, so when we heard their supplies were limited, we grew concerned for their health and safety,” said Elke Podlasek. “We love arts and crafts and have the resources to assist, so we jumped in to help. It’s important for our children to learn how they can proactively and productively help others at a time when we might be feeling helpless.”

Helping those in crisis is a common thread for the Podlasek family. In October 2018 after Hurricane Michael hit Florida’s panhandle, the couple supported their 14-year-old daughter, Kristina, in founding a nonprofit organization, Kids’ Care Disaster Relief. After engaging her classmates and friends at Canterbury School in Fort Myers to create and sell custom artwork, tile coasters and solicit donations, support grew, and so did the needs. From the California wildfires to Hurricane Dorian, Kids’ Care Disaster Relief mobilized donations and fundraisers, donating 100% of the proceeds to disaster support services. The children and their families even took a field trip to the Panhandle to personally present their donations. The group now includes 21 students, and has raised $45,000.

Today, with COVID-19 at the forefront of concerns locally and around the world, Kids’ Care Disaster Relief is once again mobilizing and seeking support. Support for the organization will help fund the materials for making more masks. As the situation continues, future needs will be addressed.

In the meantime, the Podlasek family continues to focus on the critical needs locally by making masks, some might say, until the cows come home.

“As long as there’s a need and our Island Cow remains closed, we remain committed to supporting our community, especially our friends and health care workers,” said Elke.

For more information or to support Kids’ Care Relief, visit www.kidscaredisasterrelief.com or call 239-848-5533.