Portland, ME – Thanks to a $5,000 donation from Hannaford Supermarkets, Catholic Charities Maine’s Fikiria Makerspace has embarked on a new project that is providing meaningful employment for immigrants to make cloth masks from donated, upcycled materials for vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our goal with the ‘Mask Project’ is to grow our economy and textile ecosystem, help the planet, employ low-income immigrant stitchers and protect the poorest among us from our current COVID-19 public health crisis,” says Tae Chong, Director of Social Enterprise and Workforce Development at Catholic Charities Maine.
The Mask Project is a collaborative effort quickly demonstrating just how much can be done when businesses, individuals and non-profit organizations team up for the greater good.
“This collaboration showcases how all of us can work together keep our community healthy and vibrant,” said Jim Hamilton, Hannaford Vice President of Operations, Eastern Division and Chair of Hannaford’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. “The new Mainers who produced these masks demonstrated not only dedication and skill in that work, but also the care and concern that we all share for our neighbors’ wellbeing.”
The mask pattern was designed by Betsy Scheintaub, professor of textile at MECA (Maine College of Art), who is also overseeing the production quality. The material was donated by UniFirst, one of North America's largest workwear and textile service companies with a location in Portland and came from work shirts that were headed for a landfill or overseas.
“UniFirst is proud to partner with Catholic Charities on this project to provide face masks to the most vulnerable in our community. It is our pleasure to give back to the community we have been serving for nearly 70 years. We are looking forward to many more partnerships with Catholic Charities.”
Hannaford’s donation paid the stitchers for their work on this first production run of 500 masks. The initial batch of 250 masks are being donated to Portland’s General Assistance Office, and the second set of 250 masks are headed to Portland mosques for distribution to elders in the Muslim community.
Fikiria is hopeful that the community will want to keep the Mask Project going by helping to cover the wages and sewing supply costs associated with stitching the masks from up-cycled materials. For each $10 donation made at www.fikiriamaine.org the women will be able to provide a mask for someone in the community who would be unable to afford one otherwise.
“We hope to be able to employ up to 11 immigrant women on a regular basis to cut the donated, clean recycled shirts and to stitch masks that can be donated to individuals and community organizations in need. And while we’re eagerly awaiting a vaccine and better treatment options for COVID-19, we also want to be smart and get a head start should the predicted second wave strike later this year,” Chong adds.
For those wishing to support this project by purchasing a mask or masks that can be donated to those in need, please visit: www.fikiriamaine.org. Social service providers, religious organizations and schools interested in receiving a donation of masks should contact Tae Chong at 207-653-1864 or [email protected]
PHOTO CAPTION: Collaborators on the Mask Project Pictured at the Launch (LtoR): Portland Imam Enharith; Ryan Beaulieu, production manager of UniFirst Corporation; Betsy Scheintaub, professor of textile at MECA (Maine College of Art); Steve Letourneau, CEO of Catholic Charities Maine; Tae Chong, Director of Social Enterprise and Workforce Development at Catholic Charities Maine; Cheryl Hinkson, Hannaford Director of Operations; Jim Hamilton, Hannaford Vice President of Operations, Eastern Division; and Mayor of Portland Kate Snyder.
Fikiria, Swahili for “imagine,” is a creative marketplace for emerging entrepreneurs with commercial space and professional support to help them succeed in growing or launching new retail-based businesses
About Catholic Charities Maine
Since 1966, Catholic Charities Maine has provided high-quality, community-based, social services to people of all faiths, beliefs, and economic backgrounds. As one of the largest human service agencies in the state, we are committed to helping children and adults overcome adversity and achieve self-sufficiency. More than .91 of every dollar we receive goes directly to serving our neighbors in need. To learn more, please visit www.ccmaine.org or call 1-800-781-8550.
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