Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have started a project to provide masks to medical workers in the Valley, and ASU alumni and students are joining the efforts.
AZ Masks for Medical Workers is a four-week project that aims to sew 600,000 masks through coordinated volunteer efforts. The organization will provide 6,000 mask-making kits to volunteers, each equipped with medical-grade materials to make 100 face coverings inside.
The project was started by the community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, with the help of JustServe, an online resource for volunteers. They plan to provide the masks to local health care providers including Dignity Health, Banner Health Foundation and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
"These masks will be used by the Dignity Health Community Health team and made accessible for patients and families in need," Sara Patterson, manager of external communications for Dignity Health, said in an email.
The masks are not surgical grade, but each will be purified and used in clinical settings at hospitals, according to Judy Steenblik, a social worker who also manages public affairs for her church.
The shortage of medical masks is a continued problem for health care workers, said Rachel Shaeffer, a Latter-day Saint and nurse.
“It’s scary when you have to keep using the same masks over and over,” said Shaeffer.
The organization started on Sept. 18 and has kicked off 16 distribution sites in Arizona.
Jennifer Wheeler, a media specialist with the church, said they've designed a safe method of distribution.
“Once you’ve signed up, you get a confirmation email and you put that in your dash. When you drive up, everyone's in masks and they hand you your bag and you drive off,” said Wheeler.
Volunteers can pick up more than one kit and select their drop off date when signing up.
Volunteers, including different faith groups, have joined the efforts to make a difference during the pandemic and to serve their community. According to Steenblik, many ASU students and alumni are also volunteering.
“I love the ecumenical aspect of it where we’re serving side by side with people of all different faiths who have the common goal of being lights in their community and helping other people and serving,” said Wheeler.
Joshua Vegerano, a junior studying applied biological science, said he heard of the organization through ASU’s Polytechnic Facebook group where other ASU students showed interest to join.
“You don’t have to know a whole lot of sewing in regards to making these masks,” Vegerano said.
Vegerano joined AZ Masks for Medical Workers to better his sewing skills while giving back to the community.
Jackie Sanchez graduated from ASU with both a bachelor's and master's degree in chemical engineering, and she said service and giving back to the community is an important part of her faith as a Latter-day Saint.
“(It’s) a good way to feel like I’m giving back to the community and giving back to medical workers who are giving us as a society so much of their time and effort and energy to help out with the pandemic,” Sanchez said.
Steenblik said organizers and volunteers alike are happy to have found a way to give back to the community during a difficult time.
“I think it really feels good to be doing something that you know is worthwhile,” Steenblik said.