Latina sewing project makes masks for essential workers

Essential workers wear masks donated by the Ayudando Latinos A So�ar (ALAS) mask project amid the coronavirus crisis. The nonprofit group is making 1,000 masks for farmworkers, grocery store employees, construction crews and other frontline workers. (ALAS)

Many of them had made clothes, curtains, tablecloths and costumes - but never a mask. Until now.

Ten mothers from the Half Moon Bay have set out to make at least 1,000 masks for farmworkers, housekeepers, grocery workers, construction crews and other essential workers in coastal San Mateo County communities.

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The project is the brainchild of Ayudando Latinos A Sonar (ALAS), or Helping Latinos To Dream, a Latino-centered nonprofit that began as a grassroots program nearly a decade ago.

Patricia Ramirez is one of the mothers who comprise the Un Respiro de Vida, or A Breath of Life, campaign to distribute masks to people who otherwise can't find or afford them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Ramirez, of Half Moon Bay, had actually never sewn a stitch before joining the group.

All masks made by the "Mamas of ALAS" are reversible and washable.

"This is the first time I'm doing this," she said in Spanish. She makes about 10-15 masks each day and has completed more than 60 since the project kicked off last week.

"I like it," she said. "I'm really enjoying it." Although many of the mothers knit and crochet, and had sewn curtains and hemmed clothes, no one had ever made a face mask, and they needed help learning how to do it.

That's where ALAS Arts Director Zenon Barron came in.

Having made plenty of dance costumes over the years, he was able to provide a video tutorial in Spanish about how to make the masks.

A $6,000 grant from the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation allowed the group to buy fabric, materials and sewing machines and pay the mothers a small stipend for their time, said ALAS Chief Executive Director Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga.

"It's up to us to think about how we are protecting our own community,'' she said.

While the group is distributing free masks to essential workers, it is also working with Bay Area Border Relief - an immigrant rights group that advocates for families seeking asylum - to sell masks to non-essential workers who also need protection.

This, Hernandez-Arriaga said, will help raise money to continue making free masks for essential workers in need. "We want to try to do this longer term to keep helping the community and keep people safe,'' she said.

This story was originally published by Bay City News Foundation.