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Ladue Students Sell Masks, Fight Food Insecurity through STL Mask Project
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Ladue Students Sell Masks, Fight Food Insecurity through STL Mask Project

STL Face Mask Project courtesy of OFS.jpg

When schools closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, families had to pivot their daily lives in response. A few students in the Ladue School District felt motivated at home to provide aid during the pandemic. The question became, how?

The answer, they determined, was two-fold: Promote mask-wearing in public to help keep the population safe, and serve those in need by contributing to Operation Food Search, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that aids people battling food insecurity. Thus, the STL Mask Project was born.

This student-led initiative, spearheaded by parents, makes filtered cloth masks available to the public through sales, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Operation Food Search.

“This serves many levels of need in society,” says Ayusha Amarakone, one of the project’s parent participants. “One, to promote wearing masks. Two, to raise money for people who don’t have food or can’t afford enough food for themselves and their families. Three, kids who are stuck at home can work [with STL Mask Project and] get volunteer hours.”

Many in the community have rallied behind this idea as more and more students take part, with the hope that they can inspire the population to follow suit in wearing masks while out in public.

Though public officials did not recognize the importance of wearing face masks or other coverings at first, later scientific knowledge of the novel coronavirus has experts agreeing on face masks’ effectiveness at preventing further spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. Louis city and county officials have also recognized the public health impact of wearing masks and are requiring residents to wear them in public.

Among the many issues St. Louisans face due to the pandemic, one is food insecurity, considering many families relied on school sites to provide meals and access to food.

“We have increased the amount of food that [Operation Food Search is] rescuing and make sure it gets out into the community to those who need it,” says Kristen Wild, executive director of Operation Food Search. “We have fundraisers and food drives that have had to be halted. We had to cancel several events planned for summer and fall, due to social distancing requirements. Due to closures, we have had fewer food drives. Creative initiatives, such as the STL Mask Project, help to fill the gaps.”

The STL Mask Project’s goal is to raise $12,000, which would create $120,000 worth of food resources for the community through Operation Food Search. So far, the project has raised about $5,000, Amarakone says.

“People who wear masks [can] still contribute, [as can] companies,” Amarakone explains. “Anybody can donate via GoFundMe to Operation Food Search and get a tax deduction. Our STL Mask Project by students will match with mask donations. Our masks will accompany the food [provided by] Operation Food Search.”

“For every dollar we receive, we can leverage $10,” adds Wild. “At the same time, if [STL Mask Project] succeeds in its work, it helps the community to stay safe, with more people wearing masks. It’s a win-win.”

The masks are sold at Ladue Pharmacy and through eBay and Venmo. You can follow along with the STL Mask Project through its social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

STL Mask Project, stlmaskprojectbystudents@gmail.com

Operation Food Search, operationfoodsearch.org; 1644 Lotsie Boulevard, St. Louis; 314-726-5355

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