More Than a Mask employs women making masks from home.
Photo: Corners Outreach
Photo: Corners Outreach

Gwinnett organization hires mothers to make masks at home

When the coronavirus pandemic forced students to learn from home and caused thousands of Georgians to lose their jobs, a Gwinnett-based non-profit shifted its focus from kids to their mothers.

Corners Outreach, based in Peachtree Corners, primarily focuses on helping students in Title I schools — those with a high proportion of low-income students according to federal standards — in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties reach their grade level proficiency in reading and math.

When the pandemic hit Georgia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending people wear masks in public, program director Maurie Ladson got an idea for another way to help Corners Outreach families.

Some mothers of children that Corners Outreach works with lost their jobs due to coronavirus closures or were unable to work because of transportation and childcare limitations, Ladson said. Many already knew how to sew, so Corners Outreach began the “More Than a Mask” initiative, paying women to sew masks from their homes.

“Our focus is to empower women and help them earn a living wage,” Ladson said.

Corners Outreach provide after-school programs and tutoring for more than 450 kids. It focuses on a “multi-generational approach,” engaging parents and caregivers in workshops and providing jobs in a landscaping service. The 501c3 non-profit has 13 staff members and has worked with more than 200 volunteers.

The program operates in partnership with Gwinnett Cares, a group that helps provide resources to people affected by COVID-19 and coordinates volunteer efforts and donations. This is the second venture by Corners Outreach to employ parents; they also run a landscaping business that hires parents of children who attend their after-school programs.

For three weeks, about a dozen women have been making up to 200 masks a day without having to leave their homes or pay for childcare. Corners Outreach provides the materials, so all the women need is a sewing machine and time.

Petra Morales Loya worked in a restaurant before the pandemic hit, but as restaurants closed to dine-in customers, her hours were cut so significantly that she was no longer earning enough money. Now, she makes masks full-time in her Norcross home and is able to spend more time with her children.

“My life is much better now. I’m much more comfortable at home,” Morales Loya said. “I’m much happier, and I’m grateful that I’m earning more money.”

The organization launched an online store to sell the masks on June 22. They sell for $10, and the women earn $4 per completed mask. The remaining $6 per mask pays for materials and is put back into Corners Outreach programming. The organization is also working with Welcoming America, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping immigrants and refugees, to donate 1,000 masks to Georgia farm workers.

The masks are made of three layers of cotton fabric, and they’re washable and reusable. There are masks specifically made for kids’ faces, and adult masks come in three different styles and a variety of patterns and colors.

Ladson sees room for More Than a Mask to grow. She’s planning more remote mask-making classes for people who want to get started; those who have experience making the masks will help teach those who are still learning.

“The more masks we can put in the community, the more women we can employ,” Ladson said.

The masks can be purchased at cornersoutreach.org/store.

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