It is hard to summarize the overwhelming, stressful feelings that surrounded the spring 2020 semester. For students and faculty alike, the season brought a strong sense of anxiety and helplessness.
This much was certainly true for Laura Van Waardhuizen, ‘04. As an assistant teaching professor in family and consumer sciences education and studies at Iowa State University, she was struggling to know how to best support her students through this transition.
On top of that, she was feeling guilty. Here she was with this useful knowledge of sewing, during a mask shortage. One thing she knew she could do was round up some of her extra supplies, put them on her porch and send out an all-call on social media for mask sewers to come and get it.
In doing so, she found Masks for the Frontlines Iowa, a new Facebook group connecting those looking to help with the resources required to make it happen.
“These people are warriors,” Van Waardhuizen remarked when describing her first impressions of the group. Members ranged from seasoned sewers to those who taught themselves on the spot in an effort to help.
She started answering their questions, problem-solving and discussing what materials might work best.
In doing so, Van Waardhuizen quickly realized that this community of helpers was exactly what she needed. They were her social outlet and their energy and active service helped her mentally get through bouts of COVID-induced depression
It was around this time that her former professors, UNI textiles and apparel (TAPP) professors Annette Lynch and Sharon Mord, reached out. They had several students slotted for summer internships that were being canceled. Was there any support they could provide to the organization in return for internship credit?
In addition to helping provide resources to Masks for the Frontlines Iowa, Van Waardhuizen was discovering a plethora of information that would be useful to mask makers everywhere. And so, TAPP incoming seniors Malena Silva, Melina Gotera and Cassie Hendrix began to put together a website of online resources.
Silva set to work researching mask effectiveness by fit, material and usage.
She wanted to find the best textiles for masks and filters, and help relay the information that was most beneficial and scientifically proven for the general public.
In doing so, she quickly discovered research that came out as recently as March was already outdated.
“When you’re testing textiles there are standardized tests,” said Van Waardhuizen. “But this is an area we don’t really have a test for, so people are approaching it in a bunch of different ways. That’s what [Silva] is looking at.”
Gotera is helping combat misinformation by taking Silva’s research and putting it into terms and visuals to help anyone understand the science behind what works and what doesn’t. They’ll also be making videos to help better explain and directly show how different materials are tested.
The hope is that this information, along with mask-making tutorials and other resources, will help share some of Iowa’s expertise across the country.
As for Masks for the Frontlines Iowa, they’ve been "rocking it." Founder Jess Mazour was recently told by a national organization, Masks Now, that Masks for the Frontlines Iowa has made more masks than any other group of its type across the country.
At the end of June, this scrappy, community-organized group of Iowa "PPE warriors” had made over 100,000 masks. Most of which have been driven by volunteers to their recipients at Iowa hospitals, care facilities, grocery stores, homeless shelters, daycares and beyond.
The organization attributes much of its success to simply allowing people to help in whatever way they can. “We didn’t just focus on sewists — drivers, people with porches, material cutters — every little bit helps,” remarked Mazour.
“Give people the tools they need to succeed and they’ll do it.”
For more information about Masks for the Frontlines Iowa, visit masksforiowa.com.
To see UNI textiles and apparel students’ new website, Mask Facts, visit maskfacts.wixsite.com/info.
For more stories about CSBS faculty, students and alumni, visit csbs.uni.edu/magazine.