The University of Nebraska-Lincoln community is working together to make handmade masks amid a national shortage.
UNL sent a request for more than 1,000 masks for essential workers about two weeks ago. As of Tuesday night, about 1,964 masks had been donated for an identified 1,765 people, which includes individuals who work on campus and students remaining on campus, according to Veronica Riepe, director of Student Involvement who is assisting the drive.
The masks will go to members of University Housing and Dining Services, University Facilities, the UNL Police Department, the NCard Office, a research facility and students remaining on campus, according to Riepe. The goal is for some staff to have two masks, while others, like students, only require one.
Riepe said donations have come locally and from individuals outside of Nebraska, including a UNL alum in Branson, Missouri, and a UNL mother from out of state who donated 240 masks. Another woman donated more than 200 masks.
“Some people, I think, are in the community, and they see it, and they want to help,” Riepe said. “I think a lot of people are like, ‘How can I help?’”
Riepe said people are spreading the word of the drive and finding other ways to support the effort even if they cannot sew.
“It’s people seeing the story and saying, ‘Okay, wait, I know somebody,’” Riepe said. “It’s the epitome of the ripple effect.”
Riepe said the original goal for the drive was 330 masks to cover staff in University Housing and Dining Services who continue to support the students still living on campus, with the goal soon doubling to 660 for each staff member to have two masks.
“It all started with Housing and Dining and wanting to make them safe,” Riepe said. “All of the people that order those kinds of supplies were striking out. They couldn’t get what we normally would get for them on any other day.”
Soon after, the drive grew to support more people on campus, including staff involved in preparing residence halls to house quarantined individuals.
Riepe said Ryan Lahne, director of the Nebraska Unions, helped to coordinate the drive, and Tony Rathgeber, interim director of Residence Life, has assisted with mask distribution.
Whether she’s meeting a family in a Kohl’s parking lot or coordinating drop-offs at her house, Riepe said she is proud to support UNL’s mask donation drive.
“It’s pure goodness, that’s what I get out of this deal,” she said. “I get to work with all these people who just want to help, and I just am the way to figure that out.”
Erin Kelly, a junior textiles, merchandising and fashion design major, said she heard about the drive, had a sewing machine and fabric and wanted to help.
Kelly, who lived in the residence halls for two years, said she knew staff in Housing and Dining Services that she could support. She donated about 25 masks, which took four hours to make, but she said the time commitment was worth it.
“They’re welcoming any donations, so it’s super easy,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t take too much time, and it’s just rewarding to feel like you’re able to help your community right now.”
Masks should be made from 100% cotton, pre-washed materials and be sanitized per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which include step-by-step directions and tutorials for making masks.
Donations can be delivered to the front desk of University Suites, located at 1780 R St., 24 hours a day, each day of the week, or can be coordinated by emailing Riepe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riepe said she is thankful to the many people who have made masks, spread word of the drive and put in effort for people they may never meet.
“They are truly helping the university community,” she said. “We can never truly thank everyone, but we are so grateful that people felt that this was a thing that they could do to help us.”