Costume designers play their part in theater by helping actors better inhabit their roles on stage. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the region, a group of residents who normally dress teen thespians found a way to use their craft to instead help medical workers stay safer. 

Victoria Pero, a Demarest resident who has designed costumes for The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC’s summer musicals for several years, helped to create Bergen Mask Task Force

In her day job, she co-runs the Performing Arts Department at Bergen County Academies, where she works with “three incredible costume designers,” Terry Thiry, Janet Hughes and Christine Beidel, as well as a parent volunteer organization run by co-presidents Clori Osso and Victoria Green. They were restocking costumes from their recent production of Legally Blonde when the pandemic hit.

“We'd been such a tight, collaborative group for the past three months (and years) that we just shifted in one smooth move to create handmade cotton masks to cover the N95 mask,” Pero said. “It took a bunch of research in order to figure out exactly how to create something that would serve the medical professionals.”

N95 masks are supposed to be discarded several times a day to prevent the wearer from getting infected, but there are major shortages for this personal protection equipment (PPE). They can’t be washed but can now be disinfected, Pero said.

“As the world now knows, these masks are literally being worn all week,” Pero said. “The cotton mask is an added barrier that can be washed, which keeps the staff a bit safer in the face of this disease.”

The group receives text and Facebook messages every day with stories about how bad conditions are at local hospitals.

“I think I speak for the entire team of well over 100 volunteers (and growing) that we are completely, obsessively focused on serving these brave, selfless medical teams. The nurses beg for better personal protection equipment,” Pero said. “We are churning out these masks, hundreds a week, along with thousands of other people across the country who have banded together, in order to try to meet the endless need. We cannot even come close to equating the N95, but we can offer a bit more protection and control for these truly endangered medical professionals.”

Pero said she’s never sewn so fast or so much in her life.

“That is what we are all doing, as a team. As a family,” she said. “I am not kidding when I tell you it's a bottomless pit of need. The messages they send are so scary. I can't sleep all night worrying. We provide ALL the supplies and even sewing machines if anyone needs one!”

To join the Bergen Mask Task Force’s efforts, please visit