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COVID-19 Vignette: Michelle Alvarez making face masks

Man wearing cloth mask

Recipient of Tech. Sgt. Michelle Alvarez’s face mask displays her work.

Man wearing cloth mask

Recipient of Tech. Sgt. Michelle Alvarez’s face mask displays her work.

“We’re all navigating new waters and trying to make sense of this world that we never expected to be in, and everyone is affected a little differently, and everyone is handling this a little differently,” said Colorado National Guard Tech. Sgt. Michelle Alvarez of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Indeed, while fight, flight, and freeze are our natural responses to danger, Alvarez, a public affairs specialist with the 140th Wing, demonstrated her natural response – and Air Force core values – by taking the fight to the virus.
 
“Luckily, I’m a crazy crafter and had a large stash of supplies already in my craft room before it began,” she said.
 
Combining her existing craft supplies and creativity with sharp sewing skills, Alvarez immediately began making and donating face masks for family, friends, co-workers, university students and faculty, healthcare workers and essential employees across Colorado.
 
“The biggest challenges I faced were finding enough time and supplies,” Alvarez said. “I’m fortunate enough that I was still working full time, so I worked during the day and sewed masks at night.”
 
Alvarez noted that as demand for supplies grew, scarcity became the norm, as many others had the same idea. 
 
“Stores were closed, shipping was delayed, and suppliers with available inventory increased their prices,” she said. “I was finally able to get a shipment of elastic in and I paid four times what I would’ve paid prior to COVID.”
 
Yet in the face of this adversity, Alvarez not only willingly paid the higher prices, she also continued her create-donate-and-keep-’em-safe mission through May 2020. And all that volunteer work came with an added bonus.
 
“This gave me the opportunity to really hear and understand so many people through a different lens, and in their own voices,” she said. “I was able to hear their concerns and their fears, and provide a simple solution – one small step in feeling safe.”
 
Alvarez said she appreciated the newer, and perhaps more profound, connections she made along the way.
 
“To have conversations with people that I may or may not normally have regular communication with, and be able to just see how they’re doing and how they’re handling isolation and quarantine … Sometimes people open up to you at the most unexpected of times,” she said.
 
Aside from the pragmatic necessity of masks and the added human connection, the opportunity to do one small thing to help others came with another added bonus.
 
“I was fortunate to be able to help healthcare workers who have a huge impact in the community, who are keeping everyone safe and who also experienced difficulty getting basic protective equipment,” Alvarez said. “I was able to adjust and create new patterns that allowed them to tie their masks behind their heads instead of around their ears to help with discomfort that comes from extended wear.”
 
And another bonus? Fun!
 
“Not everyone has the resources or skills to make masks, but everyone wants to feel safe and protected while also protecting others as they try to navigate through this new normal,” Alvarez said. “It was fun making masks in different colors, patterns, characters – whatever fits people’s personalities – and that makes wearing a mask a little more bearable.”
 
In total, Alvarez crafted nearly 200 masks – no small feat in the face of an international crisis. But for her it’s not about the numbers, or the time, or the supplies. It’s about connection.
 
“If you can find a way to just check in with people or make someone’s day a little brighter, definitely do it!” she said. “Maybe we can even make our new normal better than the old one.”