One Student, 225 Much-Needed Face Masks

School News
May 12, 2020
Sasha Malik at table with face masks
Sasha Malik says it takes about half an hour to make one face mask.  

For two weeks in April, the Malik family dining room became a factory of sorts as 13-year-old Sasha used her sewing skills to transform fabric, elastic, and lots of passion into 225 face masks for 911 first responders in Fairfax County.

As the self-appointed project foreman, Sasha, a Cooper Middle School student, manned the sewing machine while her parents mostly helped cut and pin fabric.

 “It was a very challenging task,” said Malik. “It took more time and effort than I thought it would. However, I had made a commitment, and I kept going.”

The project began when the Malik family, searching for a way to help the community, learned the first responders did not have enough face masks.

“I felt bad that first responders were risking their lives to protect us, but weren’t able to properly protect themselves,” said Malik. “That was my motivation—to help them, while they helped everyone else.”

Malik delivered her washable and reusable face masks in person to the Fairfax operations center that houses the 911 call center.  Tucked among the carefully packed masks was a note expressing thanks from the community. The grateful receiving employee invited Malik to return in the future to tour the building and perhaps even shadow one of the first responders to learn more about their work. Malik says she’s looking forward to that day. 

Sasha Malik delivers face masks
An employee from the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications accepts the donation of face masks.

Reflecting on the project, Malik found that in helping others she also helped herself. “It felt good to make a difference,” said Malik. “It was also healing for me because I was struggling to adjust to this new norm, and the project gave me something to be passionate about.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Learning to Sew and Give Back

Tara Williams, a Family and Consumer Science teacher at Cooper Middle School, received an email from Malik about the face mask project. “I was absolutely speechless at such an impactful display of citizenry,” said Williams.

The email, sent during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3 – 8) also thanked Williams for the valuable sewing lessons. Williams responded, “As educators, we pour our spirits into our students’ learning and hope that they go out into the world and find success, happiness, and do some good. It's a wonderful moment for me to realize that I'm bettering the world through teaching.” 

Malik also emailed Lily Millhouse, a Civics teacher, and thanked her for sharing the real meaning of community service. Malik explained: “She talked to us about how we are all interconnected as a community and how it is up to the people in our community to help each other when we are struggling. When I was making the masks, I kept her lesson in my head.”

Millhouse says she advocates that students do more than just fulfill required community service hours. “I ask them to make service part of their lifestyle by actively looking for ways to serve others.”

Millhouse says she’s always encouraged and delighted when she hears from a student who has used classroom learning to successfully make a difference in life outside of school.