The Making of Tzu Chi’s Cloth Masks is an Act of Love

Northwest  |  April 15, 2020
Tzu Chi Volunteer donated cloth masks to the Milipitas Police station. Photo by Jonathan Chiang

The United States now has the most confirmed cases of COVD-19 and the highest death toll from the virus in the world. The San Francisco Bay area was one of the earliest to report a novel coronavirus case, and on March 16, it was the first to issue a stay-at-home order.

The streets are now quiet and empty, with people forced to stay inside. Most adults are working from home, while children continue their schooling via online classes. The federal government warned that the pandemic might peak in the next two weeks, so the stay-at-home order is the best way to stop the spread of the virus.

Apart from a directive to follow social distancing, the federal government recently also recommended that everyone wear face coverings. San Francisco indicated that people should wear cloth masks, thereby reserving all medical-grade masks for healthcare workers on the frontline. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, also urged everyone to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

Since the middle of February, there has been a severe shortage of personal protective equipment(PPE) in hospitals across the United States. Therefore, although people now realize masks can help prevent the spread of the virus, the general public must opt for cloth face coverings, leaving all medical-grade masks for healthcare workers and other first-responders.

Tzu Chi volunteers, both young and old, work together diligently to make cloth masks for distribution across the United States. Photos by Jonathan Chiang
Tzu Chi volunteer Wen-Shuan Tseng and her 11-year-old daughter Iris put their hearts into making each cloth mask for donation. Photo by Jonathan Chiang

The cloth mask Rita was wearing as she donated medical-grade masks to local hospitals, was sewn by local Tzu Chi volunteers using semi-finished materials from Taiwan. Tzu Chi is now providing such cloth masks for first-responders to use when not in the field for police officers and firefighters to wear in their stations, for instance. Volunteers are also giving cloth masks to nursing home workers. 

The masks are assembled with splash-proof fabric on the exterior, cotton on the inside, and an extra pocket to insert a filter if desired. 

I’m so thankful for our volunteers in Taiwan. They relayed their love and care to send these materials from Taiwan. I’m also grateful for our local volunteers who assembled the masks so we can help the healthcare workers on the frontline.

Volunteer Karen Hsiang helped to sew the semi-finished materials into masks at home. Her son and daughter assisted by cleaning up any loose threads. Although they had to stay home, everyone was doing their part to support the frontline in the fight to defeat the pandemic.

Karen also made cloth masks on her own to give to friends. Currently, it’s hard to buy cloth because fabric stores aren’t open, while online purchases often don’t arrive. So she used long-cherished fabric she’d collected over the years to make cloth masks for families and friends who work in hospitals or labs, hoping they can safely work during the pandemic.

The current supply of cloth masks still can’t meet the demand, especially since everyone must now wear a mask when grocery shopping or going to see a doctor. In response, a group of ladies in the San Francisco Bay Area got together, buying fabric out of their own pockets and making several hundred cloth masks to donate to police and fire departments, rehabilitation centers, and other emergency or medical facilities.


Photos by Jonathan Chiang

Volunteer Wen-Shuan Tseng wanted to make cloth masks since the outbreak began, but also encountered the problem of finding fabric. Fortunately, a friend found a Vietnamese fabric store whose owner agreed to sell her the material required. Then, her whole family mobilized. 

Wen-Shuan’s 11-year-old daughter, Iris, said she and her brother also wanted to help, so they called nursing homes, fire departments, and police departments to ask if they would accept donations of cloth masks. The family now estimates that they will be able to produce 80-90 cloth masks for those who need them.

One can honestly say that the making of Tzu Chi cloth masks, and the personal efforts of volunteers and their families, are an act of love. 

Let’s join the movement of care! Help flatten the curve with Tzu Chi USA

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