Fourteen-year-old Anna Maccarrone of Darien has been sewing since she was about 8, on a gray Husky Viking sewing machine that originally belonged to her great-grandmother. She never expected she would one day be using that machine to make face masks for a population in need.

Anna is one of the young volunteers making masks for refugees through an effort coordinated by Darien resident Erika Allen, owner of Make-Modern Crafting Studio on the Post Road in Darien.

Through Make-Modern, children and adult volunteers have made over 300 masks that are being sent directly to refugees who have settled in Fairfield County.

The group of child volunteers consists of 11 children ages 9 to 14. There are also a handful of adults who are making the masks.

The kits went out to the volunteers last week. Make-Modern, which is currently closed due to the pandemic, donated all the materials and loaned out sewing machines to those who needed them.

“Make-Modern supplied everything we need — a completed mask, and the mask pattern, fabric and elastic,” said Anna, an eighth-grader at Middlesex Middle School.

Anna made 46 masks using six different patterns. It took her about 15 minutes to make each one.

She said she “feels good” making the masks “because I’m helping people and giving back to those who are really in need.”

Fourteen-year-old Scarlett Kniffen is another young mask-maker.

“It feels good to make a difference and help our community in some way during these difficult times. Making masks was gratifying. I got much better and faster as I continued working on them on my sewing machine,” Scarlett said. “This was a fun project where one kid can help make a difference for other kids.”

Kaitlin Kniffen, Scarlett’s mother, said Allen has been “amazing at empowering the girls” to help their community during this pandemic. “First, by making masks for Norwalk and Stamford hospitals. And now the kids are making kid-sized masks for this local refugee children’s program.”

Health care packages

The masks are included as part of a COVID-19 health kit of hygiene products that are being sent to the refugees.

Aside from masks, the kits contain products such as soap, laundry detergent, and gloves, as well as thermometers and children’s Tylenol.

The hygiene products are being donated and delivered directly by Amazon.

In addition, the products contain medical information on symptoms of the virus and instructions on what to if they suspect they have it. The medical information is translated in several languages.

The kits are being mailed to refugee families in the New Haven area, in collaboration with Elena’s Light, a nonprofit refugee resettlement outreach program in New Haven whose mission is to help refugee women and children.

Darien resident Tricia Ryan with the Y-Healers, (Yale Healers), a pro-bono group of clinicians affiliated with Yale New Haven Hospital Refugee Medical Clinics that provides medical education outreach to the refugee communities, is working with Allen.

The goal of the kits is to provide items and education to reduce infection of COVID-19 “in this very vulnerable community,” Ryan said.

“There are hundreds of refugee families in Fairfield and New Haven Counties,” said Ryan, adding that many of them have come to the United States within the past year.

They come from countries including Afghanistan and Syria.

“The Y-Healers reached out to Elena’s Light and asked them if we could coordinate with them to get medical packages and hygiene packages out to the refugee families,” said Ryan who is a pediatric neuropsychologist in the refugee population.

“It’s a population that has nothing. They are just resettling here in a crises situation,” Allen said. “They deserve some care and love and effort.”

Pilot

Forty refugee families will be receiving the health care packages, in a pilot program. Eventually, if the pilot program is successful, “we plan to roll out this to a larger group,” Ryan said.

“We chose this initial group because Elena’s Light has ID’d them as being locations where we could get things delivered to,” she added.

“Each family is given a completed mask, and we provide instruction on how to care for it and how to make more. The instructions are translated in multiple languages including Arabic, Pashto, Dari, and Swahili,” Ryan said.

“We will be following up with the 40 families to make sure everyone received them,” Ryan said.

Self-sustaining

Ryan said she hopes the system can be self-sustaining in that the families who receive the mask-kit information can educate their friends and also help make masks for one another.

“This core group of families that receive the health kits will then help educate other refugee families with accurate medical information,” Ryan said. “They have masks they can replicate for their families and other families.”

“The hope is through communication between refugees, they will learn more and can provide more resources to each other,” Ryan said.

Ryan said she is “passionate” about the health care of the pediatric population of refugees who are resettling in the United States.

“The reason I got involved through the Y-Healers is I saw a need in the families I saw in clinics,” she said. “We have a partnership with Elena’s Light and through that, we have an opportunity to serve families to help improve their care and their outcome as they resettle in a foreign land.”

Ryan continued: “It’s a very hard time for anybody, anywhere in the world right now, but particularly for a refugee,” Ryan said. “You are in a new country and you don’t know the language and been removed from your home country and trying to get your family settled.”

The Y-Healers and Elena’s Light will be working with other nonprofit refugee resettlement organizations to continue to disseminate COVID-19 education and materials. To support the refugee health kit project, contact Elena’s Light at elenaslight.org/.

sfox@darientimes.com