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Giving back, one mask at a time

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Sometimes the back lines are the front lines.

In the case of Anna Mroch, William & Mary's director of planning and assessment, converting the modest living room of her quiet home into a mask-making factory, of sorts, put her at the fore of local efforts to combat COVID-19.

As of the fifth week of July, Mroch had turned some 48 spools of thread and 102 yards of fabric into more than 1,300 face masks that have been distributed to friends, colleagues and business or civic organizations throughout 10 states.

“For me, making masks just organically happened,” Mroch explained.

When she began working from home in March, she started cross-stitching as her “quarantine craft.” Then, a couple of social-media posts nudged her into masks. One was from Maggie Evans, associate vice president of student affairs, who posted that she wished she had the skills to sew so she could make some.

A few exchanges later, Ginger Ambler, vice president for student affairs, sent a video link detailing how to make them. For Mroch, the masks became “a way of giving back in a socially-distanced way.”

The first ones were made from fabrics left over from previous sewing projects. She sent them mainly to past college classmates, sorority sisters, friends, family members and current colleagues.

Other requests came “word-of-mouth.” As she proceeded, she used fabric she purchased as well as collected over the years, including pieces from a quilt she had started, but never finished, in high school.

When the masks were completed, locals would pick them up from her porch, she would mail them or she and her son would embark on what she termed “ding-dong ditch,” where he would go up to a recipient’s home, “ring the doorbell and run away, and they would be left with some masks,” she said.

As weeks went by, she perfected her techniques.

“Being a person of assessment, I’ve certainly found efficiencies in how to do things faster,” she said.

She also modified some of the masks’ features. An article about an Eastern Kentucky University student who made masks for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, coupled with interest from her son who is learning American Sign Language in high school and with help from the local deaf community, prompted her to insert transparent vinyl rectangles in some of the masks.

As the country began to re-open, she started receiving requests for children's masks; she went online to find those dimensions. When she heard that the Williamsburg Campus Childcare Center was about to re-open, Mroch offered to make some windowed masks, along with some children's masks, for them, as well as for another daycare in New York.

As the pandemic continues, Mroch plans to keep her small assembly line rolling. “I will go until there no longer is a need,” she said. “I just want to make sure others can be safe and healthy.”