Grabbing from a stack of material leftover from quilting projects, Cheryl McKnight slides strips of 100 percent cotton into her “workhorse” sewing machine, stitching them into face masks for the Rosecrans Care Center in Gardena.
McKnight is the director of the Center for Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement (SLICE) at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). She began making masks in March after SLICE Coordinator Miami Gelvizon-Gatpandan told her that the staff at the care center where her sister works as an LVN and infection preventionist had run out of face coverings to protect patients and themselves from COVID-19.
“I got online and found a pattern and made them all masks. Miami picked them up from my front porch – keeping social distance – and delivered them to the home,” said McKnight, who is able to sew one mask every 10 minutes.
More requests came in as word of the face mask production spread. “Jessica Ramirez, our Jumpstart for Young Children coordinator, told me her sister’s clinic needed masks,” McKnight said. “They also needed them for clients and staff at the American Indian Changing Spirits Residential Recovery Center. That’s when I realized there was a tremendous need out there.”
Keeping Students Safe
“On April 9, after the City of Carson began requiring all residents to wear face masks while in public, McKnight shared through campus email that Paola Carbajal, residential life coordinator for University Housing, needed 120 masks for the remaining CSUDH students living on campus.
“I’m gathering up a batch for them tomorrow, but I cannot get 120 together that quickly,” McKnight wrote in the message. “If you have a sewing machine, see directions below, or forward it to someone who can help. This is a time for us to step up to the plate for these students.”
Responding to McKnight’s request was Heather Kitching, academic fieldwork coordinator in CSUDH’s Occupational Therapy (OT) Department, who shared 70 face masks that OT students Jennifer Sui and Kendira Villalobos had created.
Nursing lecturer Arneta Finney also pitched in with 10 masks, while Kelley Dawdy, an Earth Sciences faculty member, donated material to the effort. Erica Espejo, an admissions operations coordinator at Soka University of America, donated material to University Housing, and donated 30 masks she made herself.
“We didn’t anticipate the need for our cotton masks would grow to this scale, and more masks are still needed,” Miami said. “I am proud of the people in our community who have stepped up to help. It is uplifting to see so many doing their part in the midst of so many challenges.”
McKnight also recruited her friend Sue Richmond, who used to manage and make costumes for the Pearson Park Amphitheater in Anaheim. “I asked her to get out her sewing machine one more time.”
University Housing’s order was filled within 24 hours, and a safe drop-off location for the face masks was arranged by Carbajal. She thanked the entire Toro community for their efforts, and McKnight for the outreach.
“Your help and generosity for our residential students has been more than overwhelmingly beautiful,” she wrote in a campuswide email. “We have been receiving masks from alumni, staff and faculty, and we cannot be anymore grateful for your wonderful support.”
McKnight has made nearly 200 masks so far, and she still threads up her sewing machine to make more when there is a need and time permits. She is in the high-risk category for contracting the virus, so Miami and Ramirez continue gathering supplies and delivering masks that are needed by local health care professionals.
“Miami and Jessica have been wonderful in stepping up to the plate to do what’s needed. Now I’m teaching Miami how to sew on Zoom, so she’ll be doing even more,” McKnight shared. “I am amazed with how many friends, students, and faculty have come together to face the challenge posed by the pandemic.”
Miami related a lesson she learned from Mr. Rogers’ long-running television show. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”