Staff and students at Lincoln Elementary School in Fort Wayne are sporting new masks, thanks to a West Jefferson Boulevard boutique.

Julie Clancy of Jophiel visited the Cook Road school Sept. 10, bringing 1,006 masks in children’s and adult sizes. Clancy said the Covington Plaza retailer of women’s clothing and accessories has donated more than 7,000 masks to various causes since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

About a dozen students stepped outside the building to accept and model the gifts.

Lincoln Principal Claire Paul said the school welcomes the masks. “I don’t believe there’s necessarily a mask shortage,” Paul said. “The issue is that with littles the masks tend to be rather large. So the fact that these are for our little ones is so wonderful. We’ll be able to provide them with a better fitting mask. We’ve been knotting up the ends to fit around their little ears. So this will be a lot more appropriate for them.

“We’re thrilled to have them. We’re very blessed to be a part of this.”

Paul said she is relieved that children have adapted to the mask mandate. “I was actually really worried this summer about how in the world are we going to wrangle kindergartners and keep those masks on, but these kids have been phenomenal,” Paul said. “I really think parents trained them over the summer, which was good because we haven’t had very many issues with it at all. The kids have done a great job, coming in with (the masks), leaving them on.

“On coming in they might realize they don’t have a mask on and they immediately get a little concerned and we say ‘no worries,’ because we have disposable ones and we hand it to them. But they’ve done a great job.”

Clancy, of Jophiel, said the mask-making project began just one day after Gov. Eric Holcomb issued the stay-at-home order. “We heard of a need down in Indianapolis and the whole state,” she said. “Our alteration team and the whole batch (of volunteers) got together, sewing, cutting fabric, interfacing, whatever,” she said. The masks were given to hospitals and charitable organizations in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. When the schools started to go back in session, donors stepped up to buy fabric and volunteers stepped up to cut the elastic, she said.

“I think all of us that are wearing masks are struggling to find the one that is right,” she said. “If they don’t have a wire then their glasses fog up.” The masks are washable and reversible. The nose guards also are washable, she said.

“We have donated over 7,000 masks and we do make every one,” she said. “It’s not an assembly line; they are all handmade. I’ve got some really good volunteers. We got the first 1,000 done in three weeks.”

“I’m still running a business, so sometimes we have to pull them off for that instead of donations,” she said.

Besides hospitals, Jophiel donated masks to North Manchester, Plymouth and Warsaw schools and other service agencies.

“I just bought Halloween fabric. Don’t you think they’re going to want a Halloween face mask? So we’re going to be at it again,” Clancy said.

Clancy said masks have developed as part of a learning process. “The first 50 didn’t have the nose guard,” she said. “Then it was a matter of figuring out sizes. Kids are the hardest. A petite child can have a nice jaw line so you need a larger mask.”

Clancy said the project provides some peace of mind. “Business is challenging but you figure out where the opportunities are to do something for your community, and in turn you are able to sell them and that does help as well,” she said.

Melanie Hall, director of philanthropy for Fort Wayne Community Schools, also was on hand for the presentation. Hall said a panel of parents selected Lincoln Elementary to receive the gift from Jophiel.

A separate initiative, Masks for Fort Wayne Community Schools, continues sewing masks and accepting donated masks for FWCS teachers. That group had donated more than 800 masks as of Sept. 10, with an ultimate goal of donating 4,000 masks.

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