Sharon Kim, 18, of Anchorage, Alaska, a senior at West High School, spearheaded a project to keep some of her community’s most vulnerable citizens safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by making and distributing face masks. Last spring, as schools and businesses began to shut down, Sharon thought about those who could not work from home, including her father, a nurse in an oncology unit who had to go to the hospital every day. Masks and other protective gear were in short supply everywhere then. “I worried about his safety along with countless other healthcare and public service workers who continued to do their duty for the sake of our community,” said Sharon. “I had to do something and take action quickly.”
What she did was found a youth-led initiative called “MaskMissionAK.” She began by recruiting fellow students to sew homemade masks and help communicate the importance of wearing them. She then contacted various nonprofits to assess their mask needs, created a website and used social media to solicit donations and offer tips on staying safe during the pandemic. She developed a mask template, taught herself to sew, and raised almost $2,500 from a grant and a GoFundMe campaign to buy supplies. So far, Sharon and her fellow volunteers have donated well over 1,700 homemade masks to healthcare workers, first responders, children in foster care and people experiencing homelessness, among others. “Each time I donated a mask, a sense of relief comes as I envision that single mask could help save a person’s life,” she said.