When the Hua family decided to make cloth masks for their community, they didn’t even own a sewing machine. But what they did have was a driving desire to help their community. It all began in the spring of 2020 when quarantine confined Grace Hua and her family to their home. Instead of feeling discouraged, they felt motivated to make the best of their lockdown time. When I asked Grace Hua (‘23) how it all started, she took a moment to think, “I remember Joyce and I talking about [making masks] and my mom helping us reach out to people.”
During that time, elastics were running low and fabric was in high demand, so they took to the internet, searching to find any available supplies. Grace described how in one instance, “Somebody made a post saying, ‘This little antique shop is selling elastics.’”
“Before the pandemic,” she said, “those rolls would be eight bucks, but now that they were running low,” her eyes widened dramatically, “They were charging $25!” But even with these roadblocks right from the start, the Huas kept their focus on how hospitals were in desperate need of supplies.
Grace’s aunt, an anesthesiologist who works at OU Children’s Hospital, revealed how hospitals struggled under a large shortage of equipment, masks, and gowns. “She talked about how a lot of people would steal boxes [of masks] and bring it home for themselves. They were always running low on masks.”
“So we thought we should do something about it,” Grace stated simply.
Another concern on their mind was how Covid-19 outbreaks could affect nursing homes and the elderly. Grace mentioned how her dad was raised by nuns, one of whom lived in a nursing home. I immediately became curious if her father’s unconventional upbringing had any other impacts on their family. As it happened, her father’s childhood had a rather unexpected effect on their mask-making journey: “He grew up in a house of really religious ladies,” she sort of chuckles, “And none of us knew how to sew… except for him.”
“He’s the one that kind of taught us all how to sew,” she said. Though he had more experience with much older models, he could tell them the basics of how to work the sewing machine. It was moving to hear how her father was able to use the skills he learned from the nuns who raised him to in turn help them when they became the ones in need.
With a sewing machine they bought on sale at Michaels, the Hua family got to work. An average day of mask-making would usually consist of the Huas getting up and making masks first thing in the morning. They were like a bustling, six-man company: “My mom would be lining up fabric and drawing up designs. Joyce, my dad, and I [would be] sewing and my brothers would be cutting off loose threads.”
“We’d sew till one or two in the morning sometimes,” Grace grinned easily. School was still in session at this point — online, of course— but that didn’t stop Grace from devoting most of her free time to mask-making. With the basics under their belt, the Huas began experimenting with their mask designs. They were inspired by their friends in California to build upon their design— adding more layers and a place for a filter pocket. “It was a lot more folding than sewing,” Grace said, being the pro-mask-maker she was. “It was like an origami mask!” Their next challenge was to spread the word.
“We were just trying to get our name out there and help as many people as we could,” Grace said. That was their first challenge. Their second challenge came after they started getting asked to make a lot of masks, and “it got so big to where [they] were pretty overwhelmed with how many masks [they] were making.”
“Not that we mind!” she quickly adds. “That was our goal— to try to help as many people. But there were people that were asking for thousands of masks,” she laughs, “And we only had six people working on this project.”
I was taken aback. Surely there couldn’t have been only six people cranking out thousands of masks, but six people taking on the project of sewing thousands of masks is exactly what it sounds like. “It was tough,” Grace shrugs and admits honestly, ”But I wouldn’t think of anything else better we could do during that summer.”
When Grace saw how her work was able to positively impact her community, it was incredibly fulfilling and further encouraged her to continue making masks. She expressed her and her family’s gratefulness. “I really appreciate how the Casady community has helped us […] and the Heritage Hall community.” The Huas were able to make masks for the seniors’ graduation. “They could have gotten a mask from anywhere else,” Grace points out, “but we’re just glad that our masks helped them […] have a normal graduation day.”
One moment, in particular, stands out: Grace explained how she and her family would frequently donate masks in big trash bags to the OU Children’s Hospital, and there was a security guard who noticed. She smiled as she recounted a tender memory: “We’d put Mickey Mouse designs and flowers for the kids,” and the security guard thanked them and told them how much he appreciated their donations and designs. His brief words of appreciation meant a lot to Grace.
The Huas certainly didn’t expect such an overwhelming reception, but they saw a need in the community that they were determined to meet. While most people were spending their summer quarantine lounging and sleeping in, the Huas were hard at work, donating hundreds of cloth masks to hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. They made the best of their situation, and through their efforts, they were able to better the situations of those around them.