COMMUNITY: Local high school student hand-sews masks for the needy

2020 - meta gaba

The Quakes and Wells Fargo are humbled and inspired by the amazing work of our frontline communities and neighbors in this time of crisis. Each week, we’ll be featuring and highlighting the work of one fantastic neighborhood hero, showcasing the great work they are doing and the organizations our community can rally around.

Additionally, a donation will be made to an organization or community project on behalf of each week’s hero. This week we will be donating to the Ayuda Foundation

Most high school students have their hands full with balancing online school, extracurriculars, and making time for friends and family. But for Meha Gaba, making time to help others has always been high on the list of priorities. 

The San Jose local sophomore has always known of her desire to help others. For the past few years, she put her talents and skills to use by putting on shows and events for the elderly at senior centers through the organization, “inAtalent.”

“There was always an instinct in me to help people,” says Meha, “Even before Corona happened.” 

After spending so much time volunteering with seniors, Meha says the lockdown restrictions had created a void in her.

When the pandemic struck, Meha was burdened by the idea of doctors and nurses not having access to sufficient PPE, and felt a particular calling in this area to act. She saw a news segment from the CDC about how anyone can make DIY masks at home. This inspiration drew her to pull out her grandmother’s sewing machine. A few YouTube tutorials later, her homemade reusable fabric masks were ready for use. 

Meha realized the more masks she made, the smaller the void became. 

Meha was able to make roughly 400 masks on her own. Her kitchen table was covered with masks most days, but she knew she could make more of an impact with a team of people. That desire led to the Ayuda Foundation, a nonprofit organization that donates homemade masks to those in need. Having organization status made it easier for Meha to navigate networking the masks to those in need, and helped with recruiting volunteers. 

“I thought if I turned this effort into an organization, I could benefit people a lot more,” she says. 

Meha and her team of volunteers have now hand-sewn and donated over 1,500 fabric masks. 

The team has donated these masks to a variety of different people such as doctors and nurses, essential workers, grocery store clerks, hotel workers, first responders, teachers, homeless encampments and more. 

Meha’s team of volunteers represent a variety of different age groups. There are a total of 10-20 volunteers she works with regularly, ranging from young students and high school peers, to parents and grandparents. 

Part of Meha's role is dividing up the amount of masks needed and distributing a quota to whoever will be available to make them. “We take whatever we can get— whoever has free time,” she says. 

Once the masks are made by the Ayuda Foundation volunteers, they drop the masks off at her door and Meha manages the distribution process. 

Because of social distancing restrictions, it’s taken a lot of personal interaction out of the equation. “It’s a lot less personal since we can’t communicate face to face,” says Meha. “It’s hard to motivate people.”

But Meha overcomes this by spreading as much positivity as she can through her emails, and also through Zoom calls with her volunteers. Occasionally, Meha will host Zoom workshops for new helpers to teach them how to make the masks.

Meha draws much of the inspiration to help others from her family, and her grandmother specifically. She recalls spending time with her grandmother and how sharing stories would bring a smile to her grandmother’s face. Because she can’t visit senior centers like usual, mask-making is Meha’s new catalyst for spreading joy. By doing this, she continues to honor her grandmother’s legacy. 

To learn more about Meha and the Ayuda Foundation, visit their website or Facebook page.