Protecting the Community: Kent State Fashion Donates over 2,000 Masks to Help Fight COVID-19
While COVID-19 continues to affect millions worldwide and hospitals and medical professionals face shortages of masks and supplies, the students and faculty from the Kent State University School of Fashion are stepping in to help fight the pandemic. The school has donated over 2,000 masks to medical facilities in Ohio and around the country to date.
Junior fashion design student, Alyssa Hertz, was one of the first to answer the call. For the past several months, Hertz has been sewing surgical masks at home and donating them to medical facilities in need.
“I first got this idea when I heard about the shortages of the masks in medical facilities all across the country. At first, I thought they needed to be professionally made for the medical field but then I saw that Christian Siriano had his team working on them which made me realize that I could do it too.”
After getting the step-by-step instructions on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, Hertz went on Facebook Live on March 22 to give viewers a live tutorial on how to make the masks and answered questions of how others could get involved.
Hertz is working with a friend from the University of Akron, who precuts the fabric and elastic and provides the thread, so Hertz doesn’t have to leave the house. “I have family members with autoimmune issues and leaving would put them and myself at risk. I also have a neighbor who is a seamstress as well, and we have teamed up to make as many as we can and get them out to whoever needs them,” said Hertz.
She has been donating her masks to elderly neighbors, nursing homes, local hospitals and medical facilities, and has been reaching out to individuals and organizations on Facebook to help those in need. Hertz washes all masks ensuring they are sanitary beforehand and then several of her friends and neighbors who are low risk deliver and drop-off the masks.
“I just keep making them according to who needs them and the number that they give me. I will continue to make as many as I can for as many different places as I can! I’m so glad that word is getting out about making these masks it’s so important and is a really easy way to contribute,” said Hertz. “A lot of people are feeling scared and helpless at the moment and this is a fantastic way to ease those emotions. Every little bit helps more than anyone realizes!”
While N95 masks are most desired due to their ability to filter out at least 95% of all airborne particles in the air according to Forbes, medical personnel nationwide are now being forced to resort to less-protective surgical masks, which are also becoming increasingly harder to find as supplies continue to deplete while the virus spreads. While the D.I.Y. pieces do not filter everything, they do offer some protection. Many doctors worldwide are even wearing homemade masks over surgical or N95 masks, trying to prolong the coveted masks’ limited life spans. Additionally, masks are being handed out at health clinics and nursing homes to free up surgical masks for those who are at high risk and on the front lines battling the virus. Many states around the country, such as New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut, require residents to wear masks when they go out in public. Other states, such as Ohio, highly recommend masks to be worn in public, but do not require it.
Many of Hertz’s undergraduate classmates have joined the mask-making initiative, working from their homes all over the country. Junior Margaux Eibel started making masks during spring break when the need started to rise, turning her home into a makeshift sewing studio. Eibel is back home in San Diego and plans to donate the masks to her fire department where her brother currently works, and local area hospitals that are in need. Freshman designer, Alyssa Fuller, also started making masks during spring break and uses 100% cotton fabric and elastic. She has donated the masks to several organizations near her hometown of Huron, Ohio. Student Jillian McGarry put her sewing skills to use to donate masks to local hospitals and members of the community in her hometown of Hamburg, New York.
Sophomore design student, Angelique Wong, currently operates her own business on Etsy, Stay Stylin’, has turned her entire operation into mask making. She has shipped masks all over the world, as far as Australia. “For every mask that is purchased, we donate one to a local hospital, retirement community or medical facility,” said Wong.
Recent spring 2020 graduate, Emma Tschurwald, spent a majority of the past semester creating masks while also finishing her collection for the school’s Annual Fashion Show. Tschurwald was recently featured on Matter of Fact TV where she discussed donating masks to local responders in her home state of Wisconsin. She used her mother’s fabric and her great grandmother’s sewing machine to start an assembly line with help from her mother and younger sister. Said Tschurwald, “It feels good to do it. I’m excited to see them used out in the world. I’m glad I can do what I can and use the skills I learned at school.”
In addition to making masks, some fashion students have set out to raise money to purchase and deliver medical supplies (PPE), such as medical masks, N95 masks, face shields and other in-demand supplies. Students from the School of Fashion’s Fashion Industry Studies graduate program, Michelle Park Kołacz and Siera Terry, co-started Masks for Hope with fellow KSU students Irvin Cardenas and Yuqiao Xu. Their team currently has a Go Fund Me page with a goal of $50,000 to procure and donate at least 35,000 N95 and KN95 masks. To date, the group has raised nearly $5,000.
Fashion companies from all over the world are stepping in to help with the mask shortage. Christian Siriano, the inspiration behind Hertz’s call to action, has shipped more than 1,500 masks to healthcare workers in New York to date and has pledged to continue creating up to 500 masks per day. According to CNN Style, Europe-based companies such as Prada, Louis Vuitton Christian Dior, Kering, H&M and many others have all pledged to help internationally. Recently, Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom have asked their workers to step in as well. JOANN Fabric joined in the efforts back in March by providing free materials to customers to make protective masks and gowns. Since launching their “Make to Give” effort, they have donated fabric for over 1.5 million masks in stores. On their website, customers can watch mask-making tutorials and view sewing patterns to help design masks that will be donated to hospitals and other medical facilities.
Kent State Fashion students are not the only ones doing their part to help. School of Fashion professors Linda Ohrn-McDaniel and Chanjuan Chen are leading the charge for the faculty mask- making initiative. Back in March, Ohrn-McDaniel and Chen reached out to University Hospital to begin the process and determine what steps they would need to provide usable masks. They used the specifications provided by UH and developed a simple, nearly zero-waste pattern that could be used. “To make the masks, Chanjuan and I started with cotton fabric and old t-shirts, and then used pieces of wire and jersey materials for the ear loops,” said Ohrn. The duo eventually created a step-by-step mask-making tutorial that was shared with other fashion faculty and students. “I have learned that my skills are valuable outside the school and teaching environment as well and our community is reaching out like never before,” said Ohrn.
Faculty members Melissa Campbell, Paula Dancie, Trista Grieder, Kim Hahn, Ph.D., Mourad Krifa, Ph.D., Rachel LoMonaco-Benzing, Ph.D., William Perrine, Noël Palomo-Lovinski, Vince Quevedo, Krissi Riewe, Sue Yoder, and the Interim Assistant Dean for the Kent State College of the Arts, Tameka Ellington, Ph.D., also assisted in making masks. Many of whom, put their family and friends to work to help with the initiative. In addition to masks, Ohrn, Krifa, Polomo-Lovinski and the director for the NYC Fashion campus, Ann Walter, are currently researching and working to help Cleveland Clinic find materials and manufacturers for hospital gowns.
Since kickstarting the initiative back in March, fashion faculty have donated over 2,000 masks to local hospitals and medical facilities.
“We just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has helped and supported us with this initiative. If anyone is interested in helping, we are going to continue to make weekly drops at local hospitals and medical facilities,” expressed Ohrn. “We are excited to be making a difference in our communities!”
If you are interested in getting involved with the School of Fashion and would like to make or donate masks, please contact professor Ohrn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image 1: KSU Fashion Student, Alyssa Hertz, works on masks in her home makeshift sewing studio.
Image 2: KSU Fashion Student Jillian McGarry holds up her masks that she made and donated to medical facilities near her hometown in New York.
Image 3: Assistant Professor Krissi Riewe sewing masks to donate to hospitals in Ohio.
Image 4: Professor Linda Ohrn-McDaniel Delivers a batch of Masks to University Hospital.
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Professor, School of Fashion