“It helps to share kindness in my community and encourages people to do the same,” Michaela, who doesn’t charge for her masks, said in a phone interview.
Michaela learned to sew scrunches, skirts and bags during an after-school program this past fall. In March, after the coronavirus forced her school to close, she overheard her mom and dad, Kristen and Matt Munyan, talking about the shortage of personal protective equipment at a hospital.
“I think I can make a mask,” Michaela offered, and after her mom helped find a pattern online, she got to work. She hasn’t stopped.
“I think it’s been a way for her to cope with her school routine being disrupted and not being able to see friends,” said Kristen Munyan, an assistant professor at Oakland University’s school of nursing. “She’s able to use something that she’s good at to positively help, so I’ve been really encouraging of it. I think we all feel a little out of control right now, so if there’s something you can do to make it better, by all means.”
In the early stages of Michaela’s mask-making operation, her parents shared photos of her handiwork on their personal Facebook pages. Requests for additional masks, including from Kristen’s many friends in the nursing community, soon followed, and before long, the couple created a separate Facebook page dedicated to chronicling their oldest daughter’s labor of love.
Meanwhile, Michaela found a YouTube video about batch sewing and taught herself to make roughly 50 masks in two hours, a fraction of the time it was taking her to sew a single mask before.
“She became really good at it in a hurry,” Kristen said.
Since late March, Michaela has supplied masks, which she makes in five different sizes, to a local home health agency; one of her favorite pizza restaurants (with a pizza fabric pattern, of course); the pastors at her church; and Matt’s real estate office. Her masks are available for pickup and delivery, and while most of her clientele is in Michigan, she has filled orders from places as far as Arizona and Texas.
“[Kristen and I] are blown away by it,” Matt said. “We figured she’d probably get bored, but nope. She’s still going strong, and she plans to keep going."
Kristen keeps a list of requests on a Google Sheet she shares with Michaela, who uses a color-coding system to keep track of everything throughout the process. Michaela has amassed quite the collection of fabric over the past three months. She said “Paw Patrol” and “Frozen” masks are especially popular with kids, while her own mask features a “Harry Potter” pattern with Slytherin House’s serpent symbol.
Michaela does all of the sewing and stitching of the elastic ear loops for her masks, but the Friendly Chupacabra Face Covering Company is a family operation. Kristen helps prepare fabric to be sewn with a rotary cutter, while Matt cuts stray threads from completed masks. Michaela’s younger sister, Delaney, isn’t yet old enough to use the sewing machine by herself, but she carefully removes pins from masks after they’re sewn and Michaela makes it a point to involve her in the process.
“She knows how to sew, but my mom has to help her so she doesn’t sew her fingers,” Michaela said.
Finally, Michaela’s hairless cat, Minerva, provides quality control and can often be found perched on top of Michaela’s sewing machine while she works. Minerva is also the inspiration for the name Michaela gave her operation; Matt likes to joke that the Sphinx looks like a chupacabra, and Michaela shares her father’s goofy sense of humor.
Friends and family have donated fabric and other materials to support Michaela’s cause, and the positive reviews on her Facebook page provide all of the motivation she needs to keep sewing. She puts all of the unsolicited money she receives toward additional supplies, including multicolor thread, which she said “adds a secret little rainbow” to every mask that she makes.
“We’ve tried to get her to save some money and buy a book or something, but she doesn’t want to do that,” Kristen said. “She tries to just keep paying it forward. She doesn’t want to take money. I think it makes her uncomfortable."
As the number of reported coronavirus cases in Michigan approached 70,000 last week, Michaela received a much-anticipated package in the mail. The new sewing machine she ordered more than a month ago using birthday money and a few mask-related donations finally arrived, allowing her to retire the temperamental old model that Kristen received from her own grandmother as a teenager. She has already put it to good use.
“It’s way, way quieter and easier to thread,” Michaela said.
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