Sharon Purvis, sporting a handmade mask

    by Sharon Purvis, Director of Outreach and Special Projects, Ten at the Top

    The accessory we never knew we needed is the thing that will help keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay as we go back to work and other activities that require us to be around people: the mask. Nobody really loves to wear them, but masks will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

    In the beginning of the outbreak, there was a huge need for masks at hospitals, and people hauled out their sewing machines to make masks for hospitals, in addition to numerous Upstate manufacturers pivoting to PPE assembly for frontline workers.

    This week, the city of Greenville passed an emergency ordinance requiring masks in pharmacies and grocery stores, and SC education superintendent Molly Spearman said in a statement that mask use now is key to schools opening in the fall.

    As it has become apparent that widespread mask use is necessary to fight the virus, a cottage industry of homemade masks has sprung up. While some larger employers provide masks for their workers, many of us, if we’re not crafty enough to make our own, have to figure out where to get a mask.

    A quick search on turns up pages and pages of mask options, and the email I got from my local farmers market lists a woman selling masks as one of the vendors. My Facebook feed includes ads for masks from national brands. Here in our office, we’re all wearing handmade masks—two of us purchased them from a friend of mine who makes them, and the other two wear masks made by family members.

    A Local Option with a Social Impact

    Latria Graham of Covering America: The Face Mask Initiative, modeling two of her masks

    Spartanburg freelance writer Latria Graham and her mother Melinda started sewing masks after Latria stopped into a store near their home at the beginning of the pandemic and saw workers there without PPE of any kind. She talked it over with her mom, and they decided they would start making masks for people they encountered who needed them. Melinda is a fashion designer who has been sewing for more than 50 years, and Latria is a hobbyist and who sews for her cosplaying—so they were well up to the challenge.

    “We knew the people that were going to be hit the hardest by this were those without the time, money, resources, and/or skills to acquire a mask, so that’s where we are focusing right now,” Latria says. Covering America: The Face Mask Initiative was born.

    In the months since they started, the mother/daughter duo have made more than 700 masks, churning out 25-40 masks a day. Initially, the masks were made from fabric they had on hand at home, but after using up their own supplies, Latria turned to the internet for assistance, starting a GoFundMe for help paying for fabric, elastic, and ribbon for the masks as well as postage for shipping masks to groups out of state such as the Navajo Nation, which has a large number of COVID-19 cases.

    Because of Latria’s interest in cosplaying, a lot of her fabric is related to various fandoms, which make great masks for kids! This one is made from Super Mario Brothers fabric.

    “Most of the people in my life are essential workers. I know you can’t pick peaches or process meat over Zoom, and we’re an industrial and agricultural state,” Latria says. “So we’re doing our best to reach those people too, even though they aren’t considered frontline workers.”

    In addition to the GoFundMe, Latria is offering a buy one/donate one option for those who want to purchase masks—$12 for a child/youth mask and $15 for adults/plus size. She also offers masks with a clear insert to allow for lip reading for those who live or work with the hard of hearing.

    Requests for masks can be made using this form, and you can email Latria for the purchase/donate option.

    Bulk Masks for Corporate Use

    At work, it’s not a given that everyone will have their own masks, so employers may need to provide them for their workers. Cintas in Spartanburg, which supplies all kinds of workforce apparel, has around 80,000 disposable surgical masks in inventory, says general manager Mark McKinney. A box of 50 masks sells for $40, and prices can be negotiated for larger bulk purchases. Contact Mark for details.