All around Oak Park and River Forest, local residents are stepping up by creating homemade masks for families, hospitals and those in need of protecting themselves from COVID-19. Here are some examples of the heroic efforts by some members of our community.

Jewelry designer gets to sewing

The effects of COVID-19 hit Oak Park resident Dima Ali’s business hard.

While the local jewelry designer knew that while her business was going to be disrupted, there was only one direction to move: forward.

“You can either be a part of the solution or you can whine and point fingers,” said Ali. “That is not how I am. When I am faced with a problem, I immediately want to find a solution. That can get me into trouble because sometimes you need to slow down but I want to step up and be involved.”

With the supplies she uses to make jewelry, Ali has been making masks for first responders and others who have requested them. There has been a surge in orders since she started making the masks three weeks ago, and health care workers take “first priority” in order requests.

To find a design for the masks, Ali went on YouTube and glossed through the various tutorials that were available and eventually found one that was “easy” and “effective.”

“I am not a professional but I know my way around [a sewing] machine,” said Ali. “The first [mask] was awful, the second one wasn’t as bad, the third one was OK and with the fourth one my youngest said, ‘That one is the best and I am taking it.’ So, it’s a work in progress.”

While the process of making the individual masks is a one-person show, members of the community have stepped up by providing Ali supplies. Since telling people that she was making masks, there have been days where Ali would open her front door to find boxes full of supplies on her porch.

With times on her hands and supplies pouring in from the community, Ali is continuing to fight the good fight for them.

“Sitting at home doing nothing is not an option and it is not me,” said Ali. “I am a doer. I do things. I am not a professional, but in times like this we have to do more or as much as we can to get through this.” 

Local sewing group giving away masks

A group of about 10 volunteers from Truc Lam Temple, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Elmwood Park, have been sewing masks in their homes and giving them away for free to local health care workers and community members who need protection. 

Together, they have sewn more than 1,000 masks, and every day they’re making more, looking for more people who need them. They have given them to senior centers, police stations, hospitals and local residents.

“Right now, when you go outside, you need to wear a mask,” said Linh Le, an Oak Park resident. “We would like to help others have a mask to wear outside, because a lot of people didn’t have a chance to buy masks. People never thought that they would need a mask in their lives.”

The group can make about 60 masks out of six yards of 100-perent cotton fabric, which costs $25 to $30. Some of the elastic they got for free from a friend who sews clothes and donated it to their effort.

The group was started by Muong Kelly Le, also a member of Truc Lam Temple. Le and many of the others in this group of mask makers originally came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam. She has a lot of Vietnamese friends who own and work in nail salons and hair salons.

“Our Vietnamese nail shops and hair salons have donated a lot of [commercially made] masks and gloves to hospitals all around the country,” said Le. “That’s amazing! I’m so proud of them, for trying their best to return the favor that American people did when they took us in as refugees.”

Join the discussion on social media!