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The Million Mask Challenge

Featured Photo from The Million Mask Challenge

Members of the Oviedo Woman’s Club are always giving back, so it’s no surprise that during a global pandemic, they’ve found a new way to help

The nonprofit GFWC Oviedo Woman’s Club was established about 115 years ago. It currently has a membership of nearly 90 women, all with a heart for service.

“We are a philanthropic service club,” explains member Sandi Moran. “We enjoy doing philanthropic work throughout the community.”

Many of the women like to sew, and they use their talents to serve a number of initiatives like Operation Smile, Operation Christmas Child, and Love Missions. Operation Smile, for example, provides much-needed items for children undergoing surgery to correct a cleft palate.

“Our sewing group usually meets weekly to sew quilts, hospital gowns, and armbands for Operation Smile,” says Woman's Club member Diane Salvino. “When we couldn’t meet because of the virus, we all continued to sew at home.”
This past year alone, 228 quilts, 297 hospital gowns, and 273 armbands were sewn and delivered to Operation Smile Headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Ladies from the club also collected items and packed 99 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization.

“These shoeboxes were tracked online, and their final destinations were the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso,” explains Diane.  

A small group of women also sew Freedom Bags for Love Missions, a local organization in Sanford dedicated to the abolishment of modern-day slavery through community awareness and education.

“We make purses, which we fill with toiletries and personal items for women who have been in human trafficking situations,” explains Sandi.

This year, 70 Freedom Bags were sewn and delivered to Love Missions.

A New Purpose
But this past spring, after club meetings were halted, the group added another charity to its list.

Sandi read about the Million Mask Challenge on Facebook and contacted Vanessa Loomie, a local administrator for the project. In mid-July, even though she didn’t sew herself, Sandi offered to volunteer for the mask-making initiative.

The Million Mask Challenge (MMC) is a national, grass-roots effort to meet the demands for personal protective equipment. The volunteer group’s first focus was to deliver masks to hospitals and first responders. Orlando Health put out a call to the community in April asking for 45,000 cloth masks, and the local MMC chapter (serving Seminole, Volusia, Orange, and Hillsborough counties) rose to the challenge. Thanks to a large donation from Orlando City Soccer as well as 6,000 yards of fabric donated by Fabric.com, volunteers have already sewn more than 58,000 masks nationally and 37,000 for Florida.
Million Mask Challenge volunteers make cloth masks as well as medical-grade masks, and they have supplied masks to hospitals and first responders, schools and teachers, social-service agencies, native tribes, and communities in need. Recently, MMC partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank to help distribute masks to underserved communities, and in late summer, the group was focused on providing masks to local students and teachers.

“When I reached out to Vanessa, I thought I could do something,” says Sandi. “I do not sew, but I know many who do.

Certainly, I could match fabric, or I could cut elastic.”

Vanessa was thankful for the offer, and suddenly there was a bin of fabric at Sandi’s door.

“It was huge! It took two of us to carry it in,” she says. “I realized I had to reach out to the other members of the Woman’s Club for help. Even though we haven’t been in session since March, we did not skip a beat with our philanthropic work. We just had to keep volunteering. I think a lot of us need something we could really help with, even though we are at home.”

What started as five Woman’s Club members making masks for MMC quickly escalated to 25.

“Plus we’ve pulled in family, friends, and even husbands to help,” says Sandi.

She, Diane, and other members prepare kits for those who sew. They match pre-cut fabric, cut appropriate strands of elastic, and they place enough supplies for 25 masks into a bag. Vanessa facilitates drop-offs and pickups, and Sandi organizes the Woman’s Club helpers.

“Sandi got us involved in the Million Mask Challenge, and the ladies from the club jumped right in to help in any way they could,” says Diane.

Sandi distributes a grocery bag full of fabric to each member to make the kits.

“It’s not too hard on everybody because we’re really working together as a team on this,” she says. 

To date, the club has helped assemble kits that will total 10,000 masks once sewn.

“Our volunteers frequently say that they like feeling connected as part of a group doing good for others, despite the social distancing that is so much a part of the world now,” says Vanessa.

The project has brought club members closer when social distancing is the norm.

“We have plenty to do in life,” says Sandi, “but we really need a little something where we can volunteer and give back.”

The project is well-suited to those who are staying home.

“The Million Mask Challenge is a wonderful effort made possible by many volunteers, and I am honored to be part of this challenge,” says Diane. “Sewing is a hobby of mine, and I love to give back to the community when possible.”

Sandi enjoys being part of something bigger.

“The Oviedo Woman’s Club is a tiny part of this effort,” she says. “We are volunteering our time, yes, but we’re a small part of this national Million Mask Challenge.”

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