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Medical experts recommend wearing face masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but Sunset High School junior Eric Kim could see a problem.
For those who are hearing impaired and rely on lip-reading, a mask becomes a barrier to communication.
“Everyone knows masks are in a real shortage right now,” Kim said. “Even when I go to the store, I can’t buy a regular mask because they are sold out everywhere.”
Try finding one made out of clear fabric.
Kim, who had a sudden and unexplained loss of hearing in his left ear as a sixth grader, has been a volunteer at the Tucker Maxon School. Tucker Maxon serves hearing-impaired students through the fifth grade.
“I wondered how those kids there would even be able to get masks and communicate so they could live life normally,” Kim said.
At about the same time, Kim saw a CNN report about 21-year-old Ashley Lawrence, who was hand-making clear masks in Kentucky. If she could it, Kim decided, he could too.
Kim contacted Lawrence to get the basics, found some clear fabric at a local Dollar Tree store and, with the aid of his mom’s sewing machine, went to work.
He had no background in sewing but didn’t let that stop him.
“It was a lot harder than I thought,” he said. “It took like three or four hours. The hardest part is outlining the fabric and making room for the clear, fabric square in the middle so people can read lips.
“Also, we had to insert pipe cleaners on the top and bottom to adjust for the noses, so the mask doesn’t fog up.”
He had some early help from his mom, but essentially this was a learn-as-you-go operation.
“It took a lot of mistakes with the materials before I got used to it,” Kim said.
The Dollar Tree only had so much clear fabric. Lately Kim has been going online to replenish.
Kim doesn’t charge for masks and ships them free of charge to anyone who asks. He has sent up a GoFundMe account to pay for materials and shipping.
“We’ve had a lot of small donations from people in the community,” he said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Kim had sent out 13 completed masks, some to places as far away as New Jersey and San Antonio. The requests haven’t stopped coming.
“As long as people keep requesting, I’ll be making masks whenever I have time,” he said.