IU sophomore Arianna Smith volunteered with mask initiatives this summer in her hometown of Crown Point, Indiana, to provide community members with masks to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith, who studies biology and neuroscience, knew she wanted to participate in a similar project when she returned to Bloomington and created the Mask Project at IU.
“I thought I was going to have to reinvent the wheel and kind of start my own mask initiative,” Smith said. “I found Bloomington Mask Drive and I was like, ‘Oh perfect I can get involved with them.’”
Smith said she created the Mask Project at IU to serve as a liaison between the student population at IU and the Bloomington Mask Drive, since she believes that students have a duty to help out during these times as members of the Bloomington community.
Smith said she was motivated to continue to build the Mask Project at IU after discovering the Bloomington Mask Drive had no student volunteers but would love to have them when she spoke to the founder, Kelly Clark.
“I did it to help Mask Drive with wherever they need, which will also encourage mask culture on and off campus,” Smith said.
Krishna Patel, an IU sophomore studying microbiology, serves as the director of volunteering at the Mask Project at IU. She is in charge of handling volunteer hours, registration, the organizations BeInvolved page and takes notes during club meetings.
“I feel like promoting the idea that it's completely normal to wear this,” Patel said, referring to a mask. “ That's what mask culture is for me.”
Throughout the week, club members help make several different types of masks, organize and clean masks and then deliver the masks to the community.
“We have drop box locations in many different parts of the town,” Patel said. “We have some in PT areas, we have some in the Monroe County Public Library. Some in Luddy Hall on campus, we're trying to get one of the IMU andwe have some at Hopscotch Coffee downtown.”
Patel said there are around four or five people who sew each shift on Fridays and they can make around 50 masks during that shift. She said that IU student have made over 450 masks while the Bloomington Mask Drive has made nearly 40,000 masks since March 20th. Materials for the masks are either donated by community members or purchased through fundraising efforts and donations to either the Mask Project at IU or the Bloomington Mask Drive.
“Many people that just have extra fabric, when they find out about our cause they come over and donate it and are like, 'Hey I have this lying around, could it be to be of any use to you guys?’” Patel said.
Marlee Vinson, a sophomore studying neuroscience, is a committee member within the Mask Project at IU. She has become an active volunteer within the project and says she tries to volunteer at least once a week.
“I've also never sewn anything before, I didn't know how to use a sewing machine,” Vinson said. “One of the co-founders, Nola, showed me how to use one, and it was really easy, so I've sewn a couple masks as well.”
Vinson said she got involved with the Mask Project at IU through her mutual friends and a belief in the project's mission.
“It was immediately something that I knew I was going to be very passionate about,” Vinson said.
According to Smith, being able to volunteer in person has been an amazing way for students to get to know each other and make a difference.
“It never really feels like work, it always feels like we're hanging out and we're just making a difference,” Vinson said. "It's such a surreal experience because you don't feel like you're doing something really big but you actually are.”
Smith’s goals for the Mask Project at IU are to continue volunteering, especially through the winter months, and to start a new social media fundraiser. She said she believes it is important for students to become active participants in community organizations because they make up a large portion of the Bloomington population.
“We need to understand that we are a huge population of the Bloomington community, and so it is our job to help the outside community and not stay in a little bubble inside IU,” Smith said. “I think this organization allows us to directly help an organization that's trying to impact the community in a good way.”
Interested students can learn more about the Mask Project at IU by visiting their BeInvolved page, their FaceBook page, or their Instagram, @themaskprojectiu.