Mask on: Students and faculty contribute to upper school mask drive

Library+director+Lauri+Vaughan+stacks+rectangles+of+cotton+into+what+she+calls+%22mask+pancakes%22+before+sewing+them+into+individual+masks.+With+aid+from+student+volunteers+and+fabric+donors%2C+her+sewing+project+reached+5000+masks%2C+which+she+announced+on+Mar.+3+on+Schoology.

Provided by Lauri Vaughan

Library director Lauri Vaughan stacks rectangles of cotton into what she calls “mask pancakes” before sewing them into individual masks. With aid from student volunteers and fabric donors, her sewing project reached 5000 masks, which she announced on Mar. 3 on Schoology.

by Arely Sun, Winged Post Lifestyle Editor

Last spring, when the upper school left campus and switched to remote learning, library director Lauri Vaughan initiated a small-scale sewing project with some friends to make cloth masks to donate.

“I know how to sew, and I knew other sewers were going to jump on this as soon as it started happening.  So really, it started with myself, a friend of mine and Kathy Clark, who’s the lower school librarian,” she said. “We started getting fabric together and making masks, and I was doing most of the sewing and other people were doing other things.”

Initially, Vaughan’s husband helped to find materials from sellers on Craigslist, but in order to gather more, Vaughan called upon upper school faculty and staff to make donations. Much to her surprise, they contributed copious amounts, facilitating the process.

“We put out a call for material to make masks to the Harker faculty and staff and this was all while the kids were remote. I put donation boxes in all the teachers’ rooms on all the campuses, and the donations just came pouring in — yards and yards of fabric,” she said.

Vaughan has been donating the finished products to teachers and to local institutions such as Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the Indian Health Center, food banks and homeless programs. She even mailed some to Navajo nations in New Mexico. Within her own neighborhood, she and her husband put up a sign welcoming those who needed more masks.

While Vaughan and her friends were sewing and sending off the finished items, it wasn’t until last summer that she began to count the donations when her friend noted the sheer amount of plastic bags she had bought to package masks.

“She was like, ‘Well, I’ve gone through 2000 plastic bags,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I had no idea.’ We made 2000 masks by the end of the summer, and that really struck me. So then, I started keeping track of how many masks that we were donating,” Vaughan said.

When school started again in August, Vaughan noted that as people’s schedules became busy, mask-making began to “peter out.” Director of Upper School Community Service Kerry Enzesperger then suggested turning the process into a community service project. They designed a system where students could partake in parts of creation and receive volunteer hours depending on their expertise and availability after picking up supplies from school.

“You don’t have to do the whole thing soup to nuts — you can do just a part of it because not everybody can sew and not everybody wants to cut fabric, but people can do something,” Vaughan said.

What started as a small activity blossomed into a school-wide project with almost 50 student volunteers and numerous fabric donors. On Mar. 3, Vaughan announced an astounding accomplishment in a Schoology post: the project had produced a total of 5000 masks. 

We put out a call for material to make masks to the Harker faculty and staff and this was all while the kids were remote. I put donation boxes in all the teachers’ rooms on all the campuses, and the donations just came pouring in — yards and yards of fabric.”

— Lauri Vaughan

Currently, student volunteers can fill out a form and select options for tasks as well as what materials they want to pick up during distribution days. Examples of tasks include cutting t-shirts into yarn for elastic ties, cutting fabric into rectangles and sanitizing and bagging completed masks.

Madeleine Hansen (11) decided to cut t-shirt yarn and cloth rectangles because it matched her skill level and would allow her to help with positive change from the safety of her home.

“I thought it would be a good way to help in a safe way because I don’t need to be near anybody. I can just pick up the materials and then work on it by myself whenever I have time, so it’s a super easy way to help the world right now,” she said.

Cecilia Yang (9), who also chose rectangle-cutting, also appreciates the flexibility of the system. She views gifting masks as an important act of service within her community.

“It’s not very difficult for me to cut some fabric into rectangles, so since I could help really easily, I might as well,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people struggle and a lot of people not wearing masks, which is causing the virus to spread, so those people who can’t have access to masks can get masks through this. And also, I remember when the virus was spreading really fast in China, we sent masks to our relatives in China.”

Rahul Mulpuri (10) cut t-shirt yarn and cherishes the opportunity this project has given him to help others. He also expresses gratitude to Vaughan for initiating the mask drive and making it accessible to volunteers.

“To be involved in something where it can help the community abroad is very impactful,” he said. “I really want to thank Ms. Vaughan for leading this effort because I never would have signed up if I had to deliver the full mask as the final product since I don’t know how to sew.”

Vaughan, reflecting on the gratification she has felt from donating masks, reciprocates gratitude for the time, donations and effort given by the Harker community.

“I’m so glad I could do something during COVID — I think that’s what keeps me going,” she said. “It feels like it could have petered out into nothing in October, but the students got on board in such a big way. They sent it into orbit, and that was a delightful and wonderful surprise.”