ORLANDO, Fla. – When facemasks were in high demand and short supply, people everywhere looked for ways to make their own. Some heroes stepped up to make them for others, and the “Million Mask Challenge-We Need You” group united the efforts of those who wanted to fill the need.
With a background in fashion design, making masks in the pandemic came easy for Vanessa Loomie, but the realtor wanted to do more. When she discovered the Million Mask Challenge group on Facebook, everything aligned with her talents and expertise.
“At some point, I was like, you know, I can make masks, but I’m also very good at project management,” she said.
Loomie joined forces with Facebook page creator Andrea Ruiz-Hayes and together they coordinated 2,000 volunteers who helped make nearly 150,000 masks over the past year.
“We need sewists, we need people who cut fabric, we need people to help us with deliveries, we need donors because we need people to sponsor shipments,” she said.
Loomie spent many long nights packing mask-making kits and coordinating supplies for distribution. At times, th operation took over her house.
“When we were in quarantine and all isolated and it was difficult to meet people or socialize, this was an outlet for people to come together and have a sense of camaraderie and it brought out all ages,” Loomie said.
Through their mutual desire to help people, she says the group members, made up of everyone from students to seniors, found a kinship.
“We had two students from Lake Highland, and they made 500 masks with their mom. We had a nurse that was working full-time and she made the effort to make 100 masks a week despite her full time job. And then we had grandmas who were, like, stuck at home and can’t see their grandkids, but they said, ‘I really want to do something.’”
Loomie said the volunteer work helped her last year.
“The pandemic was hard on a lot of people. It was hard on me personally and the only way I swam through these dark waters was going outside myself and seeing the good I could do,” she said. “In a time when I shouldn’t have been meeting anybody, I made all these friends and from all walks of life, all with the same heart and the same sense of caring for people.”
No matter what the future holds, Loomie says working with people who are willing to help one another is inspiring.
“There’s a famous expression that came out of Mr. Rogers to ‘Look for the helpers,’ and I think we can be comforted by that, but we should also be the helper. I think we should be inspired and look around and see what opportunities there are to have an impact in the world and do something for the rest of humanity. There’s always something you can do and I think this group showed me that I can do that, and I hope it was inspiring to other people to get involved.”
Nationwide, the Million Mask Challenge network exceeded its goal with more than 2 million masks made and distributed. Loomie says the focus now is on making scrubs and hospital gowns to support ongoing needs in the healthcare field.