In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cincinnati truly rose to the occasion. However, not only did existing nonprofits and organizations offer support — some were actually created, seemingly out of thin air.
Sew Masks 4 Cincy (SM4C) started this March in response to COVID-19. Within 72 hours of its launch, SM4C founder Esther Kang had mobilized 6,000 people in Greater Cincinnati. In the last three months, SM4C has donated over 20,000 mask covers to frontline workers. Cincinnati Parent spoke with Kang about SM4C’s exponential rise, why the mission struck such a chord and what’s ahead for this nonprofit newbie.
Sew Masks 4 Cincy started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a few days, some 6,000 people in Greater Cincinnati had joined the cause. How did you mobilize so quickly?
When I created the Facebook Group “Sew Masks 4 Cincy” on March 20, my hopes were to gather a couple of my friends to sew maybe 50 masks for frontline workers. As the numbers grew to over 500 members, I joined a quilting group on Facebook in hopes of getting some experienced sewists involved, since I am a novice [sewist]. I messaged my group asking for help — and they jumped in immediately. Through my group, I was connected to Lorel Studer at TriHealth, and TriHealth decided the mask styles that Sew Masks 4 Cincy recommends. By the end of day two, we had about 1,200 members — and after our interview with Channel 12 on March 21, our numbers exploded to over 6,000 members.
To date, SM4C has donated over 20,000 mask covers to local hospitals, police and frontline facilities. You’ve partnered with several local organizations (like Cincinnati Ballet) to make masks. Why do you think there’s been such an outpouring of help from the community?
The [Cincinnati] community rallied together to protect our frontline workers, selflessly sewing, donating resources and time to make masks. Cincinnati is a great community, and people want to help. We have people donating to our drop-off sites and giving directly to friends, family and neighbors. This speaks volumes about the city.
How does SM4C work? How can people help/volunteer?
From the beginning, we wanted to provide free sewing kits to our volunteers and make it easy to help out. Everything is on our website sewmasks4cincy.org. Due to great need and the risk of COVID-19 with children, all masks created from sewing kits in June will be donated to low-income children at the frontline organizations and schools that we already work with. In July, all of the masks made from sewing kits will be donated to teachers and staff at local schools.
What would be your advice to someone wanting to start a non-profit?
Ask for help! I may have started SM4C, but I haven’t done it alone. Everything has only been possible due to the generosity and kindness of others. By asking for help, people jumped in above and beyond and SM4C’s team was born. Nothing would’ve happened without them and I am eternally grateful to our team — every one of them.
Going forward, as we adjust to life with COVID-19, how do you envision SM4C continuing and/or changing?
Our current mission is donating to frontline facilities to protect our frontline workers. If masks continue to be needed, SM4C will adjust accordingly. If the need for masks goes away, that’s ideal! If we’re called to keep moving forward, we will. The future is uncertain, but none of us went into 2020 expecting a life-altering global pandemic. Whatever happens with Sew Masks 4 Cincy, it’s filled me with hope in a time of fear.