Across the Albuquerque Metro, groups continue answering the call to create masks needed to help curb the spread of COVID-19. In April, when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended cloth masks should be worn in public settings, UNM staff members got to work.

Szu-Han Ho
Szu-Han Ho

Szu-Han Ho, an Art and Ecology associate professor at UNM, started rallying local crafters to the cause.

“It’s turned into this really large community partnership,” Ho said. “It’s very exciting to connect all these great makers and sewers and doers that all want to help.”

She started New Mexico Craft Responders, a community of volunteers responding to the COVID-19 crisis by creating DIY facemasks and protective gear for healthcare and frontline workers. Not only is the group gathering supplies and creating inventory, they are also distributing the masks back into the community.

“The spirit of collaboration and cooperation we’re seeing is really inspiring,” Ho said. “Sometimes in academia you see a more territorial vibe, but this is really opening that up. We’re working with other sewing groups and exchanging ideas, discussing the best patterns, and figuring out how to coordinate distribution.”

New Mexico Craft Responders is partnering with many local fabric and craft stores, including
SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), Stitchology, NM Seamstresses Unite and Community Mask Project. NM Craft Responders is focusing on collecting donations of materials and passing them out to members of the community to assemble. They are creating several different types of cloth masks, which are then dropped off at Zendo Coffee and distributed to community members in need.

“We have a very logistical system to ensure safe handling and preventing the spread of the virus,” Ho explained. “There are online forms for organizations to request the masks, or for sewers to sign up to create them.”

The group of 45 volunteers has made upwards of 700 masks during its first month – distributing them to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, ABQ Healthcare for the Homeless and Loveless Heart Hospital, as well as clinics on the Navajo Nation and Santo Domingo Pueblo. In addition, smaller businesses are requesting them, including rural grocery stores.

“I can sew and I had a closet full of fabric – so this was a great way to use it,” added Patricia Campbell, who is one of the sewers and also is a UNM staff member for University Libraries. “I work about an hour or two every night after work, sometimes more on the weekends.”

NM Craft Responders is only one of many groups who have ramped up mask-making in the era of COVID-19.

Okmi Jun Blemel and her daughter Hyunju, also a UNM Alumna
Okmi Jun Blemel and her daughter Hyunju, also a UNM Alumna

Alumna Okmi Jun Blemel is making masks using fabric and materials provided by Hip-Stich. She’s already created several dozen to be donated to the Albuquerque emergency Operations Center. Hip-Stich has so many volunteers working together, that it created a mask maker leaderboard as a way of encouraging others to create.

Evelyn Fleming-Cavit served as the administrative assistant for the UNM Army ROTC program—a role she still holds, just remotely now. And while her days are filled with making sure the program is running smoothly and effectively, her nights and weekends consist of making facemasks.

“I love to sew, so I figured why not use that skill to help out,” she said. 

Fleming-Cavit uses fabric she already has on-hand and any donated fabric to create the double-layered cotton, muslin and fabric tie masks. Her goal is to make that every UNM staff member has at least one mask. Anyone wanting to donate fabric to help the cause can email Fleming-Cavit directly. 

Evelyn Fleming-Cavit
Evelyn Fleming-Cavit

In addition, Fleming-Cavit is helping to fill another need—a home away from home for one of the ROTC program’s cadets.

“At the beginning of the pandemic when we received word that some of our students would have to move out of the dorms, I became concerned about where some of our cadets would live so I reached out and offered them a place to stay,” she said.  

Some cadets were given an exception to stay in the dorms, but one of them whose parents live out of state took Fleming-Cavit up on her offer, feeling that their daughter would be more comfortable staying in a house with easy access to food.

“My husband and I have a blended family of four kids and our only child left at home is our 16-year-old daughter,” she says. “My daughter and the cadet get along great and it’s nice for her to have someone older around that she can learn from.

While it is not normal practice for students or cadets to stay with UNM staff, these are not normal times, and Fleming-Cavit says the cadet has become a member of her family.

To connect with one of these groups, or make material donations, contact Rachel Whitt at UNM Communication and Marketing.