‘Ma(s)king a Difference’ Protects Frontline Workers In Austin

By Catharine Li, Reporter

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  • Hard at work, Alysa Hernan '21 sits down at her sewing machine to create masks and contribute to the cause. Although each mask only takes her around 20-30 minutes to make, Hernan enjoys demonstrating her artistry through decorative stitch patterns. "I was quickly accepted into this great community of volunteers. It has been a great experience so far and I'm glad I'm a part of it," Hernan said.

    Photo By Alysa Hernan

  • Hand-sewn masks are prepared to be packaged and delivered to community facilities in need of personal protective equipment (PPE). The masks are made with 100% cotton fabric, as recommended by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Photo By Lipika Chatur

  • Ma(s)king a Difference Austin chapter lead Lipika Chatur '21 stands with medical professionals of Texas Oncology Cedar Park to deliver volunteer-made masks and cards.

    Photo By Ma(s)king a Difference Austin

  • An assortment of colorful cards created by volunteers are prepared to be packaged with mask donations. Each card includes a thoughtful message with words of support for essential workers and medical professionals on the frontlines.

    Photo By Lipika Chatur

  • Lipika Chatur '21, Rushil Patange '21 and an organization volunteer stand outside of Sundara Senior Living, where Ma(s)king a Difference recently donated 100 masks.

    Photo By Lipika Chatur

  • Hand-sewn masks created by volunteers from around the greater Austin area are prepared to be packaged and delivered to a community facility in need. These new masks join Ma(s)king a Difference at Austin's combined inventory of over 1,000 masks.

    Photo By Lipika Chatur

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As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the State of Texas, extended efforts to help slow the spread of the virus by wearing a mask and staying at home when possible remain the new normal. Nationwide, many have stepped up to assist essential workers and community facilities in the wake of concerns of shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the Ma(s)king a Difference campaign is doing just that. 

Originally established in California on Monday, May 4, student founder Nitya Devisetti ‘21 started the organization with aims to bring together individual efforts from around the country and form a network of regional volunteer communities to support COVID-19 response. Ma(s)king a Difference chapters have since been established in six other states and in Asia, including India and Taiwan, with more chapters forming.

“Everyone is affected by COVID-19 [in] one way or another,” Devisetti said. “I hope to ‘mask a difference’ for those that make my home and my city a better place. It means the world to me that people are stepping up to join a community effort. I feel grateful that Ma(s)king a Difference was able to grow so large, but I would have been happy even if it was limited to my community. When I thought about it, I realized I had the resources to help those in need, so I decided to share my resources with likeminded people that had the same goal.” 

Serving as the campaign chapter lead for the Austin area, rising senior Lipika Chatur was eager to take action after Devisetti approached her with the opportunity to bring this initiative to Texas. In this position, she oversees all volunteer activities and partners with organizations in need of PPE. 

“[When] looking at what people are doing during COVID-19, there are nurses and doctors who are working day and night [and] it is their job to protect us, but they risk their lives every day doing so,” Chatur said. “I want to be able to help my community and not just sit at home waiting for the pandemic to be over.” 

In these trying times, such community action is galvanized by the efforts of many, utilizing resources at hand to encourage involvement in creative ways. The campaign welcomes volunteers of all ages to take part in or start a local chapter and fill roles such as sewing masks or creating cards. For those less inclined to crafting, positions to coordinate fundraisers or manage social media are available. 

“There is unity between the world right now as we are all dealing with the same struggles such that we are locked in our house being restless,” Chatur said. “I hope Ma(s)king a Difference is helping to not only cure boredom but in turn, help those who are [in] need of masks. We [definitely] need more help with all the volunteering jobs.” 

Keen to lend a hand in any way possible, one participant took the opportunity to brush up on old skills and use her crafting abilities to create masks for her friends and family. Inspired by the simplicity of the process, Cadence Russin ‘21 was excited to continue sewing after those requests stopped coming in. 

“Since my sewing machine had been gathering dust for a few years, I thought it was about time I used it. Ma(s)king a Difference has provided me with the most remarkable experience, a chance to aid the people in my community during this unprecedented time, and pursue my passion for sewing,” Russin said. 

Alysa Hernan ‘21, like many, took to finding new activities to combat boredom, as she developed a hobby for sewing in light of adhering to shelter-in-place guidelines. With an abundance of free time, she is glad to make use of this newfound passion to assist those in need. 

“When the pandemic first started, I wasn’t able to do much and now, I want to try and make up for it. Applying those skills to this new project wasn’t very hard since it mostly consisted of basic stitching,” Hernan adds, “but I did want to add some personal touch to it and use a simple and decorative stitch pattern like flowers and leaves on the border of the mask.”

Each package of masks to be donated is accompanied by hand-crafted cards with thoughtful messages to essential workers and medical professionals on the frontlines. Currently, over 20 volunteers are helping to contribute to the effort, as the Austin chapter plans to coordinate the delivery of 100 masks each to three different sites in the coming weeks, including Austin ER, Austin Disaster Relief Network, and Texas Oncology. 

Austin Disaster Relief Network did not respond to a request for comment. 

For Chatur, sustaining this effort means finding strength in numbers. Though considerable progress has already been made, she remains persistent, and with the help of volunteer efforts both small and large, the needs of the Austin community are being met. 

“People are striving to do good and attempting to change the world for the better, Chatur said. “There are so many who [are] struggling right now due to the virus. The more people that help make masks, cards, and donate, the more [donation] center[s] we can reach out to and help.” 

With over $1,000 in donations, the Ma(s)king a Difference team plans to continue their initiative and use these funds to purchase more fabric, elastic, and other mask-making supplies. Further information on how to get involved with this cause can be found on their website. Continued organization updates can also be located on their social media.