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Nonprofit making 60,000 masks for students, community
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Nonprofit making 60,000 masks for students, community

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School supplies, like everything else about this pandemic school year, look a bit different.

Masks are required for every student in the Rapid City Area School district. To ensure that happens, RCAS has reached out to Masks for Rapid City.

Western Dakota Tech, in collaboration with the West River Area Health Education Center, formed Masks for Rapid City in April to lead mask-making and distribution efforts.

The nonprofit project has a goal to produce 60,000 masks for the community, including 14,000 for RCAS students. Masks for Rapid City is looking for volunteers who can sew masks and assemble mask kits.

“The schools asked for 14,000 masks, and we have produced about 2,000 of those masks,” Masks for Rapid City coordinator Stephanie Mayfield said. “Our biggest need right now would be for volunteers to cut ties for ear loops and make kits for elementary school masks.”

Masks for Rapid City coordinates purchasing and pre-washing the fabric, assembling mask-making kits, getting masks laundered, sorting masks, inspecting them for quality, and distributing them, she said.

“It’s quite a process. We know the need is still really extreme right now,” she said.

Grant funds totaling more than $90,000 from the Vucurevich Foundation, United Way of the Black Hills, Monument Health Foundation and the Black Hills Area Community Foundation are being used for mask supplies, Mayfield said. Betty’s Quiltery, The Sewing Center and Quilt Connection have provided cloth and thread at a discount. Mayfield estimates each mask costs about $1.50 in materials.

Laundry World and Heritage Cleaners wash the new material and then rewashes masks before they’re distributed to the public.

Masks for Rapid City supplies volunteers with kits that contain a spool of thread, enough fabric for 36 masks to fit elementary school students, and a pattern approved by Monument Health. The Monument Health Print Shop and RCAS Print Shop donated the paper and printing cost for instructions and patterns in each mask-making kit.

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Since Masks for Rapid City launched, Mayfield said more than 17,000 masks have been made by the community, and all have been distributed. Masks for Rapid City has provided 450 masks for middle school and high school students, 256 for preschool students and 810 for elementary school students.

RCAS also purchased disposable masks and ordered 15,000 cloth masks from Shirt Shack, said Katy Urban, community relations manager for RCAS. The district has about 13,600 students.

“For this first week of school we have asked parents if they have masks,” Urban said. “We have said we will provide two masks and after that, it’s up to the parents to provide masks. We have had a lot of sewing groups and senior citizens groups that have called. We’ve been taking all kinds of donations in the community so that’s really going to help. For those kids who can’t provide masks themselves, we will have those extras on hand.”

Urban said the district would continue accepting donations of masks. To donate or for information, contact Urban at 394-4091.

Students are adapting well to wearing masks at school, Urban said.

“Things are going great. We haven’t had any issues with kids wearing masks. Even at the elementary level, they’re doing a really great job,” she said. “We really appreciate all the people that are stepping up because they saw a need.”

Mayfield said Masks for Rapid City also is assisting Pennington County Jail.

“A separate project is to produce 1,500 orange masks for the jail. So far we’ve only received 150 of those masks back so we’re still trying to get folks to pick up kits and sew masks for us,” she said.

Nancy Stephenson of Rapid City is a volunteer mask-maker who retired from WDT this spring after a 30-year career. Stephenson has produced 1,240 masks and has eight more in progress. She chuckles while describing her plan to quit when she’d made 1,000 masks. Instead, at that milestone Stephenson timed herself and discovered she could produce a mask start to finish in 20 minutes.

Stephenson said mask-making is a project suitable for even beginning sewers, with a bit of guidance. Stephenson’s granddaughter, a college freshman in California, has been dyeing and tie-dyeing fabric and sewing masks for her friends in their school colors, Stephenson said.

“I’m sewing like a maniac,” Stephenson said. “I really enjoy it because I love to sew, and it’s one thing I can do to help the cause, so to speak. I can make masks and I can mass produce them and help people that way. I really believe everybody should be wearing a mask when they go out. If it helps other people or it helps you, it’s worth it.”

To volunteer, call the Masks for Rapid City hotline, 605-718-3088, and leave a message. For more information and updates, join the Masks for Rapid City Facebook group.

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