GTPulse: Traverse City Woman Makes Masks To Give Back

Anna Russell spent quarantine in her childhood home. The Traverse City native currently lives in New York City where she attends graduate school for art market studies. She was able to finish her winter semester virtually and will be back in summer classes online this year too. This summer she’ll also be continuing to make masks to donate and sell, with proceeds going to different causes she cares about.

Like many men and women across the country, Anna found solace in making masks for others. Threading a machine, the methodical process of measuring, cutting and sewing fabric, and the quiet hum of her sewing machine provided a soothing background tab in a 2020 mindset.

“Making things, in general, is always something that I’ve liked to do. I joked with my family that I’ve been preparing to experience this quarantine my whole life. I’ve always found a lot of comfort in making things.”

One night at a family dinner in quarantine, Anna’s father started talking about his job.

“My dad works in manufacturing so when everything first started he was making ventilator parts and things like that. So conversation at the dinner table kind of shifted to what we could be doing, so I decided to start making masks. I’ve been sewing for a long time so I thought, ‘hey why not sell some of these masks and donate them as well.’”

In the early stages of quarantine, I found myself in a frustrating loop of not having a mask (they were hard to get), but needing a mask to go into a gas station or grocery store. A wrapped bandana sufficed with a lot of adjusting and folding, but it would have been nice to have an actual mask. Anna got started on her sewing project early enough that she was able to help others sidestep that problem.

“It was nice that so many people wanted the masks because then we were able to help so many other people who may not have had access to one. When I first started I donated 100 to Father Fred. I donated 100 to the Northern Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness. I went to undergrad in Phoenix, Arizona. They’re getting hit pretty hard right now so I donated 150 I think to the Mutual Aid Phoenix.”

She also donated masks to Ottawa Chippewa Tribe elders and money made from the masks to the Native American Rights Fund. She and other artists collaborated with art Instagram account @rainbowmountain_ to raise $1500 dollars for the fund. Her father is Native American and grew up in the tribe. Although her father is Native American, Anna doesn’t personally identify with being Native American.

“My dad is a member of the tribe. I don’t personally identify with it because I didn’t grow up in the culture so I don’t always know how to speak on it, but I have a real respect and appreciation for Native culture in northern Michigan, but also globally. Globally I think that they are underserved.”

Being back in New York City doesn’t mean she’s going to slow down her efforts. Anna is still working as diligently as ever on making more masks to sell and donate to causes that matter to her.

“I’m actually just about to ship out a donation that’s going to go to Arizona to the Navajo tribe. They’ve been hit disproportionately hard by Covid, which goes back to these communities being structurally underserved. So I’m still making them and donating them as things happen.”

Her father is proud of her efforts and contributions. What started as family dinner talk turned into a project that has brought Anna and those around her comfort and happiness.

“I think we both thrive in situations that push us to do better. It’s been great to be able to make a positive impact.”

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Categories: GTPulse