University community members sew masks to help protect St. Louisans

Senior Han Je Seo wearing a homemade mask
Senior Han Ju Seo is sewing masks for essential workers and community members to wear outside. (Photo: Jiyoon Kang)

After the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in online classes and social distancing, Washington University in St. Louis student Han Ju Seo wanted to use this newfound time to make a difference.

“If we are all stuck inside anyway, I should be productive and help out,” Seo said.

At a time where there have been so many negative stories on the news about price gouging and fights over toilet paper, Seo, a senior majoring in psychology in Arts & Sciences, wanted to be a force for good.

Sewing machine and partially-completed masks
Seo has been sewing since middle school, so making masks allowed her to use that talent to help her community. (Photo courtesy of Han Ju Seo)

She is one of many university community members doing their part to help “flatten the curve” and to take care of each other and the broader St. Louis community. She is contributing to one of many efforts underway, a project to create fabric masks for people to wear when they need to leave their homes.

The project is a response to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people wear masks or other cloth face coverings when in public during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the chances of spreading the virus to others and to protect themselves to some extent.

Members of the university community who know how to sew, and who have supplies on hand, are invited to help sew masks. For examples of patterns and details on where to drop off or mail completed masks, visit The Source.

Jill Edwards on Danforth Campus

Jill Edwards, a senior project manager in the Office of the Vice Provost and founder of the university’s Military Care Package Project, is leading the effort, after several university employees suggested that the care package group coordinate mask donations.

The masks will be available to members of the campus community as well as people in the greater St. Louis area. So far, mail services employees on the Danforth and Medical campuses, along with Bon Appetit catering, housekeeping workers and medical professionals staying at the Lofts all have benefited from the mask effort, she said.

For Edwards, reaching out to the Military Care Package Project was a no-brainer considering their history of preparing thoughtful care packages for soldiers since 2004.

Carla Becherer, a member of the Military Care Package Project, was the first to respond to Edwards’ request for volunteers. Becherer’s oldest daughter is an oncology nurse who has been concerned about mask shortages since mid-March. As Becherer already was making masks for her family and friends, she expanded her efforts to help protect community members in need. Her sister also is making masks, and together they have donated approximately 500 masks.

“This is a challenging time for all of us, and we are all in this together,” Becherer said. “Now is the time to be positive, show gratitude, and support each other however possible.”

Emma Deutschmann, a sophomore, has been washing and packaging donated masks. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

In a matter of days, Edwards saw the mask donation project take hold in the university community and beyond as people united to help protect fellow St. Louisans. Her original goal was to produce 400 masks, a goal that was quickly surpassed thanks to dedicated volunteers such as Becherer and Seo.

Seo is making 1,000 masks for various efforts in St. Louis and recently donated 100 to the United Provisions grocery store. It’s her way of thanking St. Louis for being a great home and breaking the “WashU bubble.”

“This is my chance to give back to WashU and the city of St. Louis after four years of benefitting from the community and all that it has to offer,” Seo said.

A kind note on top of donated masks
Donated masks along with messages of gratitude await distribution. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

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