Mask the Problem Collaborative sewing class gets busy making safety masks

When sewing instructor Beatriz Marquina set up a pilot program in November at the Chelsea Collaborative to teach day laborers sewing skills, she and those at the Collaborative had no idea the program would turn into an effort to help get needed safety masks in the hands of those on the front lines of a pandemic.
That’s exactly what happened this week as members of the group – mostly day laborers who have lost their jobs and earnings suddenly over the last two weeks – have come together to make masks by the hundreds.
The Collaborative’s Sylvia Ramirez said the group has already made 300 masks remotely from their homes in and around Chelsea – with Marquina acting as the chief of the newfound company with two other members from the sewing class.
“It was a no-brainer once we thought about it,” she said. “We had been running these sewing classes for a long time and we decided to invest in getting it going. They started on Thursday or Friday and already made more than 300 masks. The first 300 are being given to the Planning Department at City Hall and they’ll distribute them between the Police, Fire, First Responders, Salvation Army Staff and staff. I also heard North Suffolk will need some.”
The masks are required to be made of 100 percent cotton and are reusable after being washed. The specifications for the proper making of the masks were provided by the City. Now, they are looking to expand production.
This week they had a lot more material donated, which is going to allow them to be able to make more masks and sell them for a donation of $10 – which will go to needy families.
“We are making approximately 500 more so we can sell them for $10 each and we’ll use those funds to help families in our community that lost their jobs and maybe don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.”
Ramirez said it was very interesting timing that the sewing class had just gotten to an advanced level when the crisis hit, and authorities were asking if anyone could sew masks.
“It’s shocking they learned these sewing skills right on time,” she said. “We have a lot of other day laborers that have different skills and they all want to put those skills to work to start their own businesses…We just started this as a pilot to see how it goes. We thought we would make things like shopping bags and sell them for funding to start another project. It ended up they were able to make masks. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he was glad to see a community organization coming together to keep busy and provide a useful service right now.
“I think there is a real need for masks even beyond health care facilities for our non-profit organizations and for our first responders and our volunteers,” he said. “Masks are in short supply and they may need them. Plus, it gives people some purpose and that is very important too in this crisis.”

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