Tadeáš Bednarz / CC BY-SA

May 6, 2020; WCHS News (Charleston, WV)

As you walk down the streets these days, people in masks are a common sight. Some of those masks may make you look twice because of their great style, or unusual fabric, or even the message they carry across the front. If you live in Charleston, West Virginia, it is possible that your beautiful, or unique, or sports team-focused mask is serving a dual purpose. It is doing what the mask is supposed to do—protecting you and others from potentially spreading the coronavirus—and it is supporting a special Charleston nonprofit that was not sure how it was going to survive once the pandemic was over. And the story is really about one caring woman with a sewing machine and passion for this particular nonprofit!

When Melissa Orders first started making masks, she was giving them away to workers at her local grocery store and pediatrician’s office. Others offered to pay her for them, but earning money was not Melissa’s objective—helping people was. She and her children were longtime volunteers at Trinity’s Table, a program through the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston’s East End that feeds about 500 people a warm meal every Sunday night. When the coronavirus hit, the program needed to close, and they donated all of their food they had on hand to other organizations that were still feeding people during the pandemic. They hoped to resume service post pandemic but had no funding to purchase what would be needed to do so, and they knew that they would be needed by many more people than the 500 they had served in the past.

It seemed to be a mask—oops, match—made in heaven! As Melissa said, “I wanted something positive to focus on during the pandemic, something positive for my kids to do to help others and promote community service during a time when they can’t go out and help people face-to-face.”

Making masks, with a donation going to Trinity’s Table, has grown into a major project with unexpected returns. The cost for a custom mask is a $20 donation, with less fancy fabric masks going for $10. At this point, the project has made more than 1,000 masks and raised more than $14,000. That will definitely help restart Trinity’s Table when it is safe to do so and feed whatever number of people need that warm meal.

There are now three women doing the sewing, with Melissa’s four children helping to cut the fabric. All of the supplies have been donated, mostly from people in the community, which has made this endeavor into a community project of sorts. When someone donated a designer dress to be cut up, they were able to charge designer prices for those masks. A donation of local university sports-themed fabric allowed for some very popular athletics-themed masks.

There are a lot of people looking for ways to help during this time, and many stories of people sewing masks and giving them away to others or raising funds for good causes. In a time when we are all looking for a bit of sunshine and light, it is good to look at those crazy face masks and wonder if someone benefited from them.—Carole Levine