Meet the ladies making face masks for the LA community


Photo Courtesy of Graciela Orellana

Face masks with NFL teams.

Ivan Salinas, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Lizz Leral was looking forward to an event that her organization, Quilting for Community, scheduled for the month of April. They had already talked to shop owners near the intersection of Reseda and Rayen where they were going to have their “Quilt Walk” event. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak forced them to postpone indefinitely. With no other option, Leral went on Instagram and made a call to all quilters to put their skills towards completing a new mission: making face masks for the community.

Leral recounted how the organization had to switch gears from one day to the next.

“Once the pandemic hit, we had to pivot,” she said. “And it took a second because we didn’t know exactly what we were to do. And one weekend, we decided let’s make masks.”

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered residents of Los Angeles to wear face masks or face coverings at all essential businesses in order to prevent the further spreading of the virus. The order went into effect on April 10. Businesses are able to refuse service to those who don’t comply with the regulations. As a result, Leral knew she could help immediately, since she had a sewing machine and fabric that she could use to make a face mask. People like Leral, who have access to these tools, have already begun making a difference in their respective communities.

Leral’s outreach landed her with the ability to donate 350 masks during the first week of April to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, as well as friends and family of the community. However, the Northridge Hospital asked if they could receive 1,000 masks since they were short on supplies.

“We were surprised because you’re hearing about it all over the country,” she said. “But you still don’t realize the impact of this and the shortage of medical supplies is actually impacting your community. And so, although we’re a small group, our network of quilters is very large.”

Having reached out to all the quilting guilds in the San Fernando Valley, they were able to set up a drop off location for anybody willing to donate fabric or face coverings at the Kingdom Sewing and Vacuum Center, located on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge. The demand of these items has been higher than what she and her organization can keep up with.

Lizz Leral’s face masks are made out of all types of fabric. Photo Credit: Lizz Leral.

“One of the things that we’ve been really frustrated with lately is that there’s so many different kinds of masks to make,” she explained. “One who doesn’t sew would say, ‘Oh this little piece of fabric, it can’t take that long….’ It takes about 20 minutes to make a mask. So you can imagine if someone says, ‘Hey, we need 1,000’ — it’s nearly impossible. Everyone’s overloaded.”

On top of that, the organization has been planning to reach the homeless population, a community that has been largely ignored, and yet is more susceptible to the virus. Leral knows that this is a difficult task but the more people that get involved, the easier it should be to reach that goal.

Vendors from the LA area have begun making face masks for their communities, too. Sonia Leon, a farmers market vendor of accessories and handicrafts from East LA, has found social media platforms to be a useful tool now more than ever to reach customers. Leon lives entirely from the products she sells wherever she’s allowed to set up. One of those places included the CSUN Associated Students’ Farmers Market, which was hosted every Tuesday on East University Drive and Clearly Walk East.

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She received an email from the university that communicated to all farmers market vendors that as of the week of March 23, vendors won’t be able to set up their stalls until further notice as the university had moved to remote learning for the rest of the spring semester. It’s been five weeks and counting, and she’s had no other option than to stay home and find ways to sustain herself and her family.

“My job has been affected 100% because I’m a vendor at the farmers market,” Leon said. “The city announced that we wouldn’t be able to sell anymore, unless it was food. All doors are closed to us, and I’ve been at home for the past five weeks trying to push ahead.”

Leon emigrated from Guatemala to the United States 15 years ago. Before she came to this country, she had already learned how to use a sewing machine. She’s had to find ways to support her children and help her husband financially. Currently, she’s had to rely on Instagram or Etsy to sell any of her items, including face masks for $5 with extra fabric she has at her disposal.

Vendors from the San Fernando Valley like Graciela Orellana, a resident in the neighborhood of Winnetka, have made face masks out of any extra fabric they can find. For Orellana, this includes some that have the Batman or Steelers logo, and many others with different patterns and colors.

Her Instagram account, @withlovegraciela, features many of the items she sells. Before the pandemic, her business catered toward clients who were looking for backdrops, home decorations and customized reusable cups. Just like fellow East LA resident Leon, Orellana’s business was completely affected.

As a wife and mother of three children, her family has been her backbone through these difficult times.

“My husband is amazing. And he’s just a huge support and my kids bring my lunch or my breakfast to my table where I’m working and I’ll snack there,” Orellana said. “I’m just pushing through because I know everyone’s gonna need this as of Friday (April 10), so I’m giving it my all and I’m beat but it doesn’t matter. I do things with heart.”

Orellana added that she has been overwhelmed with the demand of family and friends who’ve bought face masks from her. Currently, she charges $8 for a single face mask or three for $20. At this point, she’s felt like sleep has been minimal, but it’s worth the sacrifice.

In the Porter Ranch area, Brie Harvey, a CSUN alumna who majored in deaf studies, began making face masks for her friends and family and giving them out for free. Before the pandemic, she was working as a receptionist for a country club, which had to close down to avoid putting their elderly members at risk.

Living alone, Harvey’s main worry is a financial one, but thankfully some of her financial aid has supported her the last couple of months. But, she’s finding ways to help her situation and other people, too.

“I have a bunch of fabric that I’ve never gone through. I made my first one. And then I posted it on my (Instagram) story. I was like, ‘Does anybody need a face mask?’ I’ll make one free DM me because I still don’t really know how to make one,” she said. “I mean, I know how to make them. They’re actually pretty good. But at the same time, I’m still getting started. But in the meantime, I know people need masks.”

She also added that when making a face mask, she’s more on the fashion aspect. When The Sundial spoke to her, she was embroidering a mask for people to personalize it however they want.

Similarly, Leral from Quilting for Community mentioned how the art of quilting can also be an outlet for creativity.

“I love to customize my fabric with block printing, screen printing ink, paintings. There’s all kinds of techniques,” Leral said. “We have some women who love to do hand embroidery, so it’s really an outlet. Most people don’t know that quilting is just another creative form like painting, dance, music, food. And people tend to think of it as old fashion or that’s something that my grandparents and my great grandmother did and tend to think of doilies and roosters. But you can actually get pretty crazy. You can get very contemporary and modern, and go all out there because your medium is fabric.”

For Leral’s organization, this effort still falls under their mission: to help and educate the community through their craft. As a wife and mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Leral will continue to make face masks for as long as she can. People all over the world have adapted to the new reality the COVID-19 pandemic has caused and there are multiple ways to get involved.

If you don’t have the tools to make a face mask for yourself or are unable to donate fabric, buying from an independent vendor in your community can make a positive impact, and in turn help those who need it the most during this time.

Currently, Mayor Eric Garcetti has not announced when LA residents will no longer need to wear a face mask. Garcetti’s stay-at-home order was extended from April 30 to May 15.