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Spanish Daily Journal
     April 16, 2020      #16-107 sdj
Kankakee School District's community engagement specialist Bill Yohnka prepares to distribute a bag of cut materials for masks to a "sewing home" in Kankakee. Students in the district have volunteered to take bulk materials, delivered by Yohnka and his son, Sam, and cut them following the pattern us

Kankakee students, families join local mask making

Estudiantes de Kankakee, familias se unen a la fabricación de máscaras locales

KANKAKEE — Almost as soon as the need arose for protective face masks, people started dusting off their sewing kits and threading their needles.

While surgical and N95 respirator masks are in short supply and needed by medical workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends others cover their faces with a scarf or homemade fabric mask when in public to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Facebook groups dedicated to the cause have sprung up in communities all over the country, including Kankakee Mask Makers II in Kankakee County. Instructions on crafting homemade masks are widely available online.

One of the most recent efforts comes from Kankakee School District 111 families who are crafting cloth face masks in their school colors for donation around the community.

Bill Yohnka, community engagement specialist for the district, has been delivering materials to families who have volunteered to cut and/or sew materials. He just picked up his first batch of finished masks on Monday.

“It really helps us all when we can’t be together, feel together on a project,” Yohnka said.

The finished products are red and blue cloth masks with the school district logo printed on the corner.

School officials thought of the idea to get families in the district involved with local mask making efforts, and Yohnka agreed to facilitate the project.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ I took a couple 4-H courses doing projects when I was younger,” Yohnka said. “I can deal with some fabric and then reach out to families.”

Yohnka put a call out on the district’s Facebook page for families with sewing skills or with children who can cut simple shapes who wanted to lend a hand to the project. He bought as much 100 percent cotton fabric in the school colors as he could from Walmart, and despite some difficulty procuring elastic, he was able to gather enough materials for the first batch of volunteers.

Then he got on his bike and started delivering packages of fabric to people’s front doors.

“So many people are just coming out of the woodwork wanting to help,” Yohnka said.

About 30 families reached out indicating they wanted to participate, he said.

One such family included Christine Case and her daughter, Charlotte, a sixth-grader at Kennedy Middle School.

Case said she and her husband had already been looking into making masks and ordered some materials because they felt it was something they could do to help their community. When the school district asked if anyone could cut or sew fabric for masks, they saw their opportunity to contribute.

“It’s been cool to have that family project, to have the sewing machine set up and to know we are working toward a shared goal. That felt good,” Case said.

While Case hasn’t taken out her sewing machine in a while, she said sewing is a skill that “just comes back to you.”

“It is a lot easier than you think,” she said. “This does not have to be the prettiest sewing job. You basically just need to know how to operate a machine and sew a straight line.”

Charlotte soon took over the project in the Case home. After her dad taught her how to use the sewing machine, she figured the rest out on her own and had about a dozen masks completed in a couple hours.

“It’s a good, simple intro project,” Case said. “It’s a good way to get your kids involved and help them understand this is how we can help the immediate community.”

Case suggested people could help the cause by getting any quarter-inch elastic they may have sitting around in drawers to people who are sewing masks, as the material is in short supply right now. Another idea for those who want to help but don’t have sewing supplies or skills would be to volunteer to cut materials and pair up with a sew-savvy friend or neighbor, she added.

“I was really pleased to see the school district taking the helm with this,” Case said. “I know a lot of us feel like we’re twiddling our thumbs at home, so it felt like a really good way to get lots of people on board.”

Yohnka said he will be reaching out via Facebook to connect with individuals or groups in the community in need of fabric face masks. Now that health officials are advising people wear masks in public, there probably won’t be a problem finding homes for them, he added.

“Most of all we just kind of wanted to do something to remind people that our school community is still a community even though we can’t be together,” Yohnka said.

Those interested in participating can email Yohnka at william-yohnka@ksd111.org.

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Kankakee School District's community engagement specialist Bill Yohnka and his son, Sam, 15, bike through Kankakee to deliver mask supplies to volunteer students and parents.