Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the newest accessory for any outfit is a face mask.
When the recommendation to wear a face covering around other people or large groups was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the need for masks grew as availability became limited.
Two local teens, both concerned for the health of their local communities and eager to find a way to help, took to sewing up a solution. With separate projects, Daniel Chung, a student from Federal Way Public Schools, and Rafferty Escame, a student from Fife High School, donated hundreds of masks to the Federal Way community.
Daniel, 17, is a student at TAF@Saghalie and describes himself as an artistic person who has always had a heart for helping people. TAF@Saghalie is a STEM-focused neighborhood public school co-managed by Federal Way Public Schools and Technology Access Foundation (TAF) for grades 6-12.
The program’s after school Engineering Club is where Daniel learned to sew.
“I never knew I could learn about sewing at a STEM school,” said Daniel, who added that he has always been interested in fashion as a hobby.
“I’m so thankful for the small environment school for the number of opportunities available,” Daniel said, adding that initially he didn’t think the school would be a good fit because he isn’t a traditional “STEM” person.
At first, Daniel began to sew masks because he couldn’t find one for himself or his family members. He used old t-shirts and scrap cloth, then decided to upgrade his masks to include a fitted look, a filtered layer and sanitized individual packaging.
“I knew from my search that they were really hard to find,” he said. He also noticed youth his age had a stigmatization about masks not being “cool” to wear. “I thought those two factors combined were deterring my peers and other Federal Way youth from getting masks.”
Setting up shop in the living room of his home, Daniel soon moved operations to the home office for a work space and took extra precautions by cleaning his tools regularly and wearing gloves.
“It felt like my own little fashion line, like Project Runway,” he said with a laugh.
Wearing his own creations, Chung said he found flaws and worked to tweak his design, making it more comfortable for the individual. He also made smaller versions of the masks fit for kids 10 years of age or under.
He began his project at the beginning of quarantine around mid-March, making a few masks each day and soon enough, the stockpile grew. Listening to music or podcast, time would slip away when he was sewing.
“The masks were simple to make, but tedious to create,” he said. “Sometimes I’d work through the night and the next morning be like ‘I forgot to sleep.’”
In total, Daniel handmade more than 150 masks. He gave the masks to community members, friends and family. He also donated masks to the City of Federal Way, Federal Way Public Schools employees and flight attendants at Alaska Airlines.
Daniel said despite the cliche phrase, the experience of giving to others was incredibly rewarding.
People have sent messages of thanks and teachers from the FWPS district have sent photos of themselves wearing their masks, he said.
“I was able to help people,” Daniel said. “End all, be all, I helped people and I’m so happy. It brings me joy when people reach out and say ‘I wore your mask today.’”
Rafferty Escame, 17, is a senior at Fife High School and for his final community service project to become an Eagle Scout, handmade and donated hundreds of masks to the Fife, Milton and Federal Way areas.
Escame is part of Scouts BSA Troop 330 chartered by the Federal Way United Methodist Church. When he was unable to fulfill his original plan of building a reflection garden for a nearby preschool due to the state’s lockdown, Escame switched gears when he saw news reports of face covering shortages.
“I saw a need and I thought I could fill it,” the life-long scout said of his project deemed Flatten the Curve. The final count of Rafferty’s project surpasses 1,625 masks.
If community members had their own reusable cotton masks, Rafferty said, hopefully they would leave manufactured PPE for the first responders and medical teams who were in dire need.
Creating a network of helping hands, Rafferty sent out bundles of material kits to volunteers with instructions and a link to his YouTube mask making tutorial video.
Rafferty estimates he sent kits to anywhere from 30-50 friends and families, many of whom are Boy Scout and Eagle Scout families.
“It took off almost immediately,” he said. Rafferty’s GoFundMe account accepting donations for supplies also raised more than $800 in total.
Rafferty and the volunteers committed to flattening the COVID-19 curve donated more than 100 masks to King County Metro drivers, 350 masks to two local nursing homes for staff and residents, 50 masks to Sky West wanted masks for a pilot’s flight crew. More than 100 masks also went to local medical officers and the remaining 1,020-plus masks were distributed to community members at local grocery stores, according to a post from Scouting Magazine.
At both of his distribution days at Safeway stores in Milton and Federal Way, Rafferty’s stock of masks was depleted within 40 minutes.
Each mask was packaged with a removable filter and instructions in a cellophane bag. On the outside, a label directed others to the tutorial video to encourage others to make masks for themselves, family members or friends, the post said. Each package also included a thank you note to the recipient for doing their part to Flatten the Curve .
Rafferty’s video is posted on YouTube here.
Next year, Rafferty plans to study aviation at Central Washington University.
“In times of uncertainty and strange things like what’s happening, amazing things can happen when we come together,” he said.