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Community project makes over 13,000 masks for people in need

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — When the COVID-19 pandemic began, everyone entered a world focused around social distancing and wearing masks.

As the outbreak started to impact the stateline people all over the area started making face coverings to give to people in need.

That's when one project started to gain traction with a goal as clear as its name.

The 10,000 Masks Initiative.

The idea began with Hannah Warren, the development and marketing director for Womanspace, and the work she does with another organization overseas.

"I'm an executive director of a non-profit in India called 'Jhoole' that employs women in garment manufacturing so that they can earn a good living wage and escape poverty," Warren said.

"They were making and distributing masks for free in India. I shared a Facebook post to see if anyone locally would be interested in getting some of those masks and I was going to import them."

However, this idea ran into a road block.

India shutdown its exports of COVID related resources, leaving Warren with several people asking for help and no concrete plan to answer the call.

Until a new thought formed, why not make the masks ourselves.

The number 10,000 was one Warren believed, while ambitious, was achievable.

A mindset that became much more plausible after the community started to get on board.

"We had over 200 people volunteer to help out with this initiative. Seeing the passion and dedication was absolutely amazing," Warren said.

"We even had some volunteers who were essential workers and would just being doing this in their spare time."

Some volunteers started working around the clock to make masks.

Including Heather Galluzzo who, admittedly didn't know how to work her sewing machine before the project, pushed out over 1,000 masks on her own.

Galluzzo was motivated by a way to get her mind off of the pandemic as well as create a network in the community.

"We're connecting with other people that I might not have ever met and now we're building friendships and we're reaching out to each other and it's a support system," Galluzzo said.

"Not only are we helping other people but we're helping each other."

Galluzzo gives a lot of credit to the community for helping her get resources after she used up all her fabric and couldn't go to the store to get more.

"If we didn't have all those people, all our friends, relatives that donated fabric and supplies, we wouldn't have been able to do it."

Galluzzo is one of so many volunteers standing up to help the initiative.

There were days sewers would fill businesses like Mohop to crank out as many masks as possible.

"We had people working at Mohop working on the machines. I was just a wonderful experience and I got to meet so many wonderful people," Nancy O'Neill said.

By the end of the project, the goal of 10,000 masks was far in the rearview mirror.

The final total was 13,355 masks made.

The end result is exciting for Warren to see but she believes the true success of the project will never truly be understood.

"Now that we know that masks can contain the virus, if somebody was infected and put on that mask, it could have halted an exponential spread. It would have stopped them from passing it on to one person who would pass it on to another person and so on," Warren said.

"It's very likely we saved many people from getting sick and possibly even saved some lives."

Womanspace is quick to thank so many people and organizations for their support through the initiative, including Rockford Rotary who contributed 10,000 dollars to sponsor the project and Mohop for providing a space for volunteers to work.

If you know any person, group or organization that is trying to impact our community for the better, you can fill out an Inspiring 815 nomination form on our website by clicking here.

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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