As Stefanie Kim rode the bus and walked around the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus this spring, she realized that many people did not have access to the masks needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “I did some research and found that it was quite difficult to buy masks. The prices were around $10-$30 and for those who do not have access to internet or a permanent address for delivery, access to masks was very limited,” said Kim, a graduate student in the School of Social Work.
She got to work on her mother’s sewing machine and joined hands with Carle and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to make masks for the community. Initially, she donated the masks to families that were in need, but soon she was supplying masks to community organizations like Family Advocacy, Urbana Neighborhood Connections, and Crisis Nursery. Currently, she is working on providing masks to Circle of Friends. “I learned about We CU through Katie Shumway (co-director of We CU) while I was working for the Community Learning Lab. We CU has helped me get organized and has done all the heavy lifting of networking and connecting me to the right people.”
An additional 37 We CU volunteers joined Kim on her mask-making mission, logging nearly 400 hours of service. Kim provides tutorials for making a variety of masks. The masks are then donated via contactless delivery to designated locations. Students not on campus were able to apply to the We CU mini grants program to offset costs associated with shipping masks.
“Meeting people from various backgrounds and seeing their enthusiasm to contribute to society has made this experience very fulfilling for me. Emails from students and social work faculty keep me motivated,” said Kim. She has independently made around 400 masks and the student volunteers are shipping large batches to her soon.
While Kim is not new to volunteering, moving everything online has offered significant challenges. She has previously volunteered in her hometown of Chicago and has undertaken mission trips to South America. “I work better face to face. It has been a challenge to do everything over email and to coordinate virtual meeting times. However, the volunteers and We CU administration have been very receptive. Katie Shumway and Ananya Tiwari (We CU student support team lead) have been very helpful and check up on me.”
Kim’s advice to prospective students joining the program is that every little bit counts in volunteering. “Our willingness to set aside our differences and come together for a greater cause is what makes the Champaign-Urbana community so great.”