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Young seamstress uses hobby to stitch masks for nurses in need

Apr 15, 2020

Abigail Arnold (right) and her sister, Mackenzie 

When 13-year-old Abigail Arnold learned that her mother's friend—a nurse at that their local hospital—was running low on masks while treating COVID-19 patients, she felt determined to help the cause.

"I said 'I would love to do that.' I need a new sewing project to do. I'm not a doctor, so I can't help people that way," said Arnold, of Mechanicsburg. "I did have all this extra fabric laying around."

The seventh-grader began learning how to sew from her grandmother about five years ago and has her own personal sewing room in her basement filled with supplies and a sewing machine. Arnold has stitched together seven masks so far. She estimates she has enough supplies for 50 masks.

As a member of PA Cyber's National Junior Honor Society, she is making the masks her end-of-the-year project, an idea she shared with NJHS co-advisor Alesha Yaria.

"When she brought this up to me, I just thought it was the most wonderful idea and was so proud to have her get credit for this as her service project," Yaria said.

All members of National Honor Society and Junior Honor Society are required to complete a service project. This year students were asked to contribute to curtailing or assisting with the COVID-19 crisis.

"They could write letters to people in nursing homes who cannot have visitors and are very lonely, donate in some way to local shelters for people or animals, donate to food banks, buy items whose producers give some of the proceeds to research helping to fight COVID-19, or simply – but as importantly – stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus," Yaria said. "Some students, along with Abigail, are making masks, which I find just amazing and heartwarming."

Abigail started sewing about two weeks ago after she watched a YouTube tutorial produced by JoAnn Fabrics detailing how to make the masks. Then she drew her own pattern, measured the material, and cut fabric and elastic with the help of her 14-year-old sister Mackenzie, a PA Cyber ninth grader.

"I needed two pieces of 7-inch elastic. My other grandma had sewing things laying around, so she gave it to me. She had the perfect size for it."

With a shortage of essential medical supplies, health care workers on the front lines are sometimes having to reuse masks and other personal protective equipment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans wear masks or cover their faces in public, particularly at grocery stores, to help prevent those who are infected but asymptomatic from unknowingly spreading the virus. Medical professionals require more sophisticated N-95 masks, which provide the most filtration possible, because they are closely interacting with infected patients.
Abigail said her masks have two layers of special interfacing cotton and two layers of fabric.

"These kinds of masks, they're using them to put over their medical masks just for extra protection. They're running out of the masks, so with these they can just rewash them every night and use them to put over the ones they have to throw away," Arnold said.

Arnold said it feels good to use her hobby to help. She plans to make additional masks for her parents, Rebekah and Tommy Arnold, and her two siblings.

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.