A few weeks ago, after her school shut down indefinitely, Madi Curran was left at home with little to stay occupied. Yet, rather than logging screen time or making up for lost sleep, the Santa Maria student took to her sewing machine.
Now, what started out as a favor to her mom has become Madi’s own personal fight against COVID-19.
Since March 21, the Ernest Righetti High School freshman has spent her idle time sewing cloth masks at home for family, friends and even Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Working nearly four hours every day, Madi’s daily output is around 15 masks – a total she’s determined to grow as orders pour in.
“Some people are asking for thirty at a time,” said Madi. “Yeah I have a lot of orders right now, but I’m doing this as long as people need them.”
Facilitated through her mom’s Facebook account, Madi is selling her hand-sewn masks at a rate of three for $10. Madi then donates a mask to Cottage Hospital for every one that is sold, ensuring health care workers are taken care of just as much as her family and friends.
Before Madi started the project, she couldn’t have imagined what it’s become today. Madi’s original intention in making masks was to help her mom, who needed protection while out for essential errands, like grocery shopping.
Luckily, the favor acted as a creative outlet, something Madi lost when Righetti shut its doors.
Per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District closed all schools on March 16. Like other districts in the area, SMJUHSD will continue with remote instruction through the end of the semester, but the requirements of that online curriculum have yet to be determined.
For Madi, this has meant sporadic assignments and the occasional Zoom meeting. But without regular class periods, much of the curriculum she was used to getting fell away, especially that of her intro to art course.
So Madi adapted. With a passion and an affinity for art, particularly in interior design, she focused her talents to the uncertainty at hand.
“I think (sewing) gives me something to do,” she said. “It also keeps my mind off of everything that’s going on.”
Having some fourth grade hand-sewing experience, as well as a year-old lesson on the sewing machine, Madi wasn’t completely in the dark as she approached her first mask. Still, the specifics of her design took a YouTube tutorial and a little help from her grandma.
Once she got the hang of things, a 20-minute endeavor for the 14-year-old, production kicked into high gear. After filling the need of her immediate family, she started to sell to anyone else interested. Yet Madi still wasn’t satisfied, so she looked for other ways to help. That’s when her mom’s friend, who works as a nurse, suggested Cottage Hospital.
While cloth masks are not considered official PPE, or personal protective equipment, by the CDC, they can go over health care workers’ N95 masks. Doing so keeps the N95 masks clean and extends their lifespan.
Reconciling charity with her localized business, Madi’s work was set out for her. Soon, her house became an assembly line, with her mom doing her part to speed up the process. Those contributions include taking trips to the craft store, cutting out supplies and publicizing the DIY project.
In fact, while Madi silently sewed at home, her mom sent word of the project to her art teacher, Melissa Johnson. From there, Madi’s efforts became known districtwide.
“I shared (the story) with my colleagues, department chair, principals and the district in an email under the subject line, ‘I hope this brightens your day,’” said Ms. Johnson. “It’s nice to show people in a dark time not just people helping other people but youth doing their part.”
Like Madi, Ms. Johnson looked for a way to stay creative in the wake of COVID-19 closures. Also trying to stay connected with students, the art teacher asked her class to share any projects they’ve been up to lately. To her surprise, the inquiry resulted in a note from Madi’s mom and a moment of disbelief.
“I am so incredibly proud,” said Ms. Johnson. “Look at what a difference an individual can make… If we can all do that in our own way, what a better place the world would be.”