Washington DC Volunteers Bring Forth Love Through Mask-Making

Greater Washington D.C.  |  June 22, 2020
Volunteers work together to deliver masks with love during the pandemic. Photo by Eric Tong.

Written by  Chin-Lan Chen
Translation by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Great strength arises from the unity of minds and the drive to help others. Amid the global pandemic, a Tzu Chi Washington DC volunteer named Shuchuan Weng wanted to contribute her part toward supporting frontline workers, and decided to launch a DIY cloth mask team. She did so by first creating a group on LINE — a communication app that many Tzu Chi volunteers use to keep in touch. She then invited volunteers Chengyueh Lee, Shallin Nesbit, and Annie Wang to join, hoping to connect with more volunteers through the group, and spread the word about her intention to make cloth masks for the community. Weng shared that she doesn’t own a sewing machine and is not an expert at sewing, but she was nonetheless willing to hand-sew masks, one stitch at a time. In the beginning, it took her half a day to complete only two masks. Now, however, she can make three to five masks per day.

If one can see hard work as a blessing, one will work willingly and not become exhausted.

Volunteer Shallin Nesbit is an expert in Shuchuan’s eyes. She used to study apparel design in Taiwan, and had sewn candy bags for children to use on Halloween as part of Tzu Chi’s activities in the past. When she was invited to make cloth masks, she agreed instantly. Soon after, Shallin began spending time researching and studying how to make flat and three-dimensional cloth masks. 

Shallin said that when she was sewing the cloth masks, she thought of the happiness and relief others expressed when they received the masks. Thus, she reminded herself to be mindful, infusing beauty into the masks both through her designs and through the sincere love entwined with each stitch. Shallin explained that the most significant challenge in making cloth masks during the pandemic was the lack of materials. It took a long time for orders made online to arrive. She was nevertheless grateful for the opportunity to contribute her time, and looks forward to making more of them.

Shuchuan Weng (right) and Shallin Nesbit (left) discuss how to make a perfect cloth mask. Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Washington DC Region.

The Collective Goodness of Mask-Making

Another volunteer, Annie Wang, who was in charge of the Great Love Respite Program, also had a hand in the mask-making efforts.

Linda Roberts, the late wife of one of Annie’s colleagues, Brian Roberts, was very fond of sewing quilt covers and blankets, and even had a studio at home. After Linda passed away two years prior, Brian donated many supplies to the program. After the pandemic began to escalate in the U.S., Annie thought of these supplies and how to make the most of them. Volunteers began to research the most efficient ways to make masks. Later, Annie told Brian that she’d wanted to find sponsors for crafting the cloth masks. Brian was happy to be able to contribute more supplies — including some elastic bands from Linda’s studio that were perfect for the DIY masks.

Brian was happy to be able to contribute supplies to the DIY team. Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Washington DC Region.

Annie Wang instilled her optimistic and pragmatic approach to life into all that she does, and so, the sudden idea transformed into a vow to make 1,000 cloth masks. She continues making the masks every night, even after working and tutoring her children at home during the day. From obtaining the fabrics to recruiting volunteers, Annie’s enthusiasm had moved many friends and parents at Tzu Chi Academy, prompting them to join the cloth mask DIY team as well. 

Annie also shared that because she was working from home during the pandemic, she had more opportunities to study Master’s teachings. 

What matters is not how many teachings one listens to but how one applies them in daily life.

Annie Wang vows to make 1,000 cloth masks for those in need. Photo courtesy of Annie Wang
The DIY mask team worked day and night to make the cloth masks. Photo courtesy of Annie Wang

Mask-Making Brings Happiness

Volunteer Jean Ho shared that making cloth masks began for her because there were no masks at home, and she felt the need to make some for her family. She’d had some fabric, and began researching the proper mask-making methods on Youtube. She then tried creating different types of masks, and developed an interest in making more, hoping to donate them to the hospital she passes on the way to work. Jean expressed happiness in making the masks, and has already completed more than 100 masks since mid-March. When Annie asked Jean for ten cloth masks, Jean immediately mailed an astounding 40 masks to her, and recruited a new member to the DIY mask team.

Jean Ho makes cloth masks for her family as well as for Tzu Chi’s donation efforts. She later became a member of the DIY mask team. Photo courtesy of Jean Ho.

Jean Ho, who is a teacher, also offers her time as a volunteer for Tzu Chi Academy on Saturdays. She has dedicated her volunteer time to administrative work and teaching a class at the Academy since 2008. While schools are closed in the States due to the pandemic, Jean hasn’t taken too much of a break, going to the school from Monday to Friday to prepare three meals per day for the parents to pick up. When the school announced its closure, teachers had new assignments of their own as they learned how to teach from home. Jean learned how to use Zoom, and prepared online teaching materials so she could continue teaching Tzu Chi Academy students every Saturday.

Great Strength Comes from Hearts United

Dharma Master Cheng Yen teaches that “Unity of hearts enables limitless accomplishments.” The Greater Washington DC Region is therefore endlessly grateful for all the volunteers who joined the DIY cloth mask team. 

These cloth masks represent a flowing cycle of love from the Roberts family and the DIY mask team, and we welcome even more people to join. Volunteers also aim to distribute cloth masks to vulnerable groups, such as seniors, medical workers, individuals at homeless shelters, and recipients from Tzu Chi’s charity activities. Volunteers sincerely hope that these cloth masks can make a positive difference for those in need during the pandemic, and that the knowledge that they were made with so much love will serve as a reminder that you are not alone — for your Tzu Chi family is here for you.

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