A Different Kind of Masquerade

Published Thursday, May 14, 2020

Members of JCC Community Make Masks 

For the past two months, our worlds have changed in ways we could have never imagined. But amid the chaos, uncertainty, sadness, and exhaustion, the human spirit has risen to the occasion. 

There are countless acts of kindness and generosity from our JCC community alone that we could spotlight. In fact, we hope to continue spreading the word about our community heroes and hope you will share these stories with us. But today, we are thrilled to shine the light on three members of the JCC community who have channeled their talents into making masks to keep our citizens safe.

Taryn Martin, a New Orleans JCC Nursery School teacher for the Little Lions class, teamed up with her mother Sherry to create masks.  Lorenza De la Puente, a babysitter at the JCC, has been making masks that have been distributed to individuals from New York and to New Mexico. Maria Etkind, a JCC member, pivoted from her regular job as hat maker to a mask maker following the recommendation from the CDC to wear facial coverings.

“Wearing a mask when you go out helps our community mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Maria said. “This is the first time in history where we are all responsible for our collective health.”

We caught up with Taryn, Lorenza, and Maria, to learn more about how they got started and how their projects have grown. Read more from our conversation below:

How did you get started? What inspired you?

Taryn: It’s kind of a funny story. My mom made some simple curtains for the living room but they shrunk in the wash and weren’t long enough for the windows anymore. I happened to see a pattern for masks on Facebook, so I suggested that we use the fabric from the curtains to make a few masks. Several masks and Rosie the Riveter jokes later, we ended up buying more fabric and elastic, and things just sort of took off from there.

Lorenza: One night I decided that I would find a way to help. I spent a few hours looking at videos of other mask makers and I found that I could definitely do it! I looked through all of my spare fabrics and found enough to make about a dozen masks. I posted a picture on Instagram offering masks to my friends and family, not thinking that a lot of people would respond. The next day, I woke up to over 50 mask orders! 

Maria: I got started at the beginning of our lockdown around mid-march. I was inspired by wanting to help my friends and family and wanted to keep everyone safe.  I am a milliner (hat maker) and as soon as I heard that medical personnel didn’t have enough PPE, I started making masks. (Check out her business mariaetkindmillinery.com)

Where are you distributing masks?

Taryn: We were initially only sending them off to people that we knew were health care workers, essential workers, or were immunocompromised. We have put them in ziplock bags for people to pick up from our front porch, delivered a few, and mailed several. We have reached New York, Georgia, Nevada, and Mississippi as well as several areas of Louisiana. 

Lorenza: So far I’ve made masks for people all throughout the New Orleans area and I have shipped some out to New York, DC, and New Mexico as well. I’ve had people reach out to me through my Instagram or Facebook to order the masks. I had one friend who is an essential worker tell me that she was interacting with people every day and she was not given any adequate protection at her job. Therefore, I donated masks to her and all of the staff, so they don’t have to worry more about their health while doing their jobs. I’ve also donated masks to nurses who have reached out and told me that they’re being asked to reuse their disposable surgical masks because there is not enough equipment for them. Right now I am working on an order of a dozen masks for a non-profit that is delivering meals to families in need. For others, I’ve been selling masks on a pay what you can basis, so I can keep up with buying more materials and paying for shipping, while also allowing people to get as many masks as they need for their families and friends with no set financial obligation. 

Maria: I am selling masks and have donated 20% of masks to friends, family, delivery personal, neighbors. I also can ship in the U.S.

What has surprised you during this project?

Taryn: How expensive stamps have gotten! No, I’m kidding… kind of. Honestly, I think the only surprising thing about it is how far we have gone with it. We were originally just planning to use the fabric that we had in the house and now we have made close to 200 masks.

Lorenza: I’m definitely surprised by how many orders I’ve gotten! When I started, I thought that I would only be making masks for a few days. Now it has been almost three weeks and I still get new orders every day. I’ve also been surprised by how amazingly generous people are. I’ve had people who heard about what I’m doing come drop off extra fabrics at my house so I can keep going. 

Maria: I think what surprised me the most was that my hat clients all wanted to buy masks from me. I felt their outpouring of love and support when I didn’t think that my small business would survive. I didn’t realize then that I had actually pivoted my business from hat making to mask making. We have now all seen many business change what they manufacture to help the need for PPE. 

What kind of feedback are you getting?

Taryn: All of our feedback had been really positive. People have been very thankful for the little bit of help. A lot of people have offered to pay for the masks or donate money for supplies but we haven’t accepted anything. As much as we are appreciative of the offers, we aren’t doing it to make a profit, we are just doing it because it needs to be done.

Lorenza: I’ve been getting very positive feedback, which is very encouraging! People have told me the masks are very pretty (which is good cause I want them to be fashionable too!!!). The most important feedback has been from the nurses who have told me they have found the masks to be comfortable, and they really like wearing them.  

Maria: Everyone is very happy with the cloth masks and say that they are the most comfortable ones they have worn. They love the fun prints.

What inspires you to keep going?

Taryn: Just knowing that there’s still a need. Until all of us are safe, none of us are safe, so we are just doing what we can to make sure people have a way to protect themselves and others when they have to go out.

Lorenza: Everyone has been so thankful for the masks, and I feel like it's the least I can do! I went to drop off some masks to a mom and her children and as I was leaving, she told me she was so thankful because she hadn’t been able to go outside to go grocery shopping because she didn’t have any protection. 

Maria: Keeping people healthy and safe is a huge inspiration. I am a maker so creating is in my DNA.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to help during this time?

Taryn: If you are making and sending masks to people, it’s not a bad idea to bag masks and write the date it was sealed. Also, be sure to pre-wash and dry all fabric to avoid the mask shrinking later. Make sure you are taking all of the proper precautions! Do contactless deliveries, wear a mask yourself, and wash, wash, wash your hands before and after each delivery. There is no such thing as too careful right now.

Lorenza: I think there are millions of ways that you can help out right now! If sewing is not your thing, you can always look for old button-up shirts or sheets and donate those to mask makers because we are always looking for more material. It’s important to not overthink it. Look at what you have around you, think of your skills and what you can contribute, and do it!

Maria: Start by helping yourself. Stay healthy and get professional help if you're feeling like you can’t manage your anxiety or depression. Talk to others about how you are feeling. Don’t over commit and be careful of burn out. Fighting this virus is a marathon, not a race. We all know that helping makes us feel better, so don’t be scared to care and give love to others.

Do you know someone in the JCC community doing great things during this crisis? Share their story with us!


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