COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Shontael Elward is the first to say, she’s no seamstress.
“I’m not a very advanced sewer, like, I made my kids’ summer dresses when they were little, and pillow cases. Like that’s it,” she said with a laugh. “I was like alright I’m going to figure out how to make some rectangles. I can make some rectangles. And decided I would just start making masks for everybody – whoever wanted them.”
That was in early March. Now, three months later, she’s made and donated more than 750 masks.
“I wish that everybody who wants a mask could have one,” she said. “But there are still folks who don’t have them: they don’t have the money, they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the time or energy, the know-how, internet access, whatever: for whatever reason, don’t have masks.”
Elward added that even though masks are a lot more accessible now, it doesn’t help if you can’t pay for it. Plus, as we progress through the pandemic, there are other factors.
“Now, if you consider now we’ve reopened or are reopening the economy and people are moving around, then having one mask isn’t great. You probably should have four or five masks,” she said. “I don’t wash my laundry every single day. So if you’re wearing a mask and it’s supposed to be washed every day, that is maybe unrealistic for some people if you don’t have a washing machine for example. If you’re busy, single mom, then you know who can do that?”
Shontael realized that her street is a high foot-traffic area. South High School is across the street, Parsons Avenue is just a couple blocks away, and there are many who walk along her sidewalk to get to bus stops. Her front yard fence could be a great donation spot, so on Friday, June 12, she decided to test her plan and set out 54 masks.
“I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to put these out on my fence. My neighbors are going to think I’m weird, that’s okay they already think I’m weird, and so I’m just going with it,’” she said with a laugh. “And they were flying off the fence. Like, people were just nonstop all morning Friday morning. And it was really lovely and I was like ‘oh my gosh!’ Of course, me, I need to make more masks!”
Sometimes, Elward’s dedication has gotten the best of her. She’s had to learn to set some boundaries, otherwise she will spend all her time making masks – and trying to take care of everyone.
“I have six kids. Part of the reason why I’m probably a little obsessive about the mask making is that I lost a son. He was 16 years old when he died. So grief is real. It’s real in our family. I just don’t want anybody to have to have that pain,” she said. “I don’t want somebody’s child to not have a parent. I don’t want a parent to not have a child. It’s just not trivial to me.”
To make sure as many people get the masks as possible, Elward is adjusting her strategy. Her goal is to make 100 masks a week, and put half out on Friday nights, the other half out on Saturday mornings.
“A lot of people can go on Old Navy and get three masks for $15, and that’s fantastic. I’m happy that they’re doing that, but not everybody can. I just hope that it can be easy and be convenient for people and free so that it’s just like everyone deserves to have a mask,” Elward said. “Everyone deserves to be protected.”