Written By: Neelakshi Iyer (Grade 11) and Ananya Goel (Grade 12)
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase throughout the United States, there is a tremendous need for face masks. In response to this need, a group of volunteers from the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Sewa International initiated a Mask Making Project in late March. Around 50 volunteers, both children and adults, stitched masks, made cards, and delivered them to places in need.
Franklin County in Ohio houses the state’s capital, Columbus. As the most populous county in Ohio, Franklin County was profoundly affected by the coronavirus. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Franklin County had over 13,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 450 deaths as of July 2020. These trends brought a wave of fear among the residents of the community.
To address the community’s need for masks, Sewa International, a Hindu faith-based organization dedicated to serving humanity, partnered with around 25 local organizations, including Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). The community’s response was immense, and the Mask Making Project grew from three to the now 50 volunteers in just three months.
To help engage new volunteers quickly and efficiently, the coordinators promptly streamlined the mask-making process. The initial volunteers were given hands-on virtual training from California volunteers on sewing masks, and eventually, coordinators made a tutorial video. Once more volunteers joined the project, those who had already received hands-on training served as trainers for the newcomers. Additionally, volunteers conducted virtual meetings each week to collaborate and help each other throughout the stitching process. They also got to know each other and developed new friendships through this activity.
Thanks to these training and collaboration sessions, around 35 volunteers were able to make roughly 3,000 cotton masks in the first two months. Organizers ensured cleanliness by requiring volunteers to wear masks and gloves while stitching and asking them not to sew if they were sick. After volunteers stitched the masks, about 15 people sanitized, ironed, and packaged them.
People from all age groups were able to participate in making masks. The youngest participant, Aditi Pyakurel, was only 13 years old. Although Aditi participated in other community service projects in the past, this was her first time stitching masks. The masks that she made went to a local community center, and Aditi even personally helped deliver them. Aditi said that her favorite part about the Mask Making Project was handing out masks because they were going to people in need.
As one of the youngest mask makers, Aditi said that she wanted adults to notice that kids are also eager to give back to the community during the pandemic. Her advice to other children and adults who want to help but are afraid or unsure of what to do is to “…just go for it because even the smallest act will help somebody in need.”
The Mask Making Project donated masks to local community centers, senior centers, a rehabilitation center, a juvenile facility, city offices, temples, and churches. Vineet Goel, a volunteer of Sewa International and a coordinator of this project, helped identify the places in need of masks.
“It is our responsibility to serve people wherever we are and however we can,” Goel said.
Goel said that the most challenging part of the project was procuring materials, as many people were willing to stitch masks but did not have the proper fabric. Fortunately, Joann Fabrics and Crafts, a local fabric store that Goel contacted, generously allowed volunteers to purchase whatever materials they needed at any time without having to wait in line. This act helped volunteers make more masks at a fast pace.
In addition to stitching masks, the Mask Making Project included card making. Children between the ages of 6 and 8 drew handmade cards thanking frontline workers for their efforts during the pandemic. The children made 25 cards and delivered them to a police station, a fire station, and medical centers.
The Mask Making Project also collected monetary donations. Notably, two non-profit organizations made significant contributions: the Federation of Indian Associations and IT Serve. There were also many donations from people in the community. With these funds, the volunteers were able to buy and donate around 1,000 surgical masks. They also bought hand sanitizers, safety glasses, face shields, and gloves to give to medical centers. Additionally, volunteers provided meals for essential workers, like postal workers and trash service workers. They donated some funds to food banks as well.
Mohit Arora, a coordinator who focused on volunteer engagement, said that he was proud of the volunteers’ overall effort because they helped build an extensive network across Columbus for future projects. Arora said that he was overwhelmed with the community’s willingness to serve. He gained a lot of self-confidence from being one of the leaders in this project. Although Arora said that he was initially unsure if people would step up, he found that the community was very welcoming of the Mask Making Project and eager to get involved.
Ohio’s Mask Making Project helped volunteers develop strong ties with the community, and volunteers are looking forward to serving in times of future need.
“COVID-19 Dashboard.” Overview, coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/dashboards/overview.