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St. Louis Teenagers Are Learning To Sew — Because Children Need PPE Too

Shelei Pan loves working with children. As a high school senior, she adored volunteering at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital earlier this year. It was right around that time that momentum around wearing masks started to build.

“I remembered … how there was a girl who wanted to leave her room, but she was in isolation so she had to put on a mask, and the mask that was given to her was this little tiny mask with animals on it,” Pan said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. That moment led her to start thinking about the masks she’d see in stores and how they likely wouldn’t fit children properly.

“There are a lot of kids in St. Louis who [also] may not have access to direct purchases of child-size masks and are probably in need of something that fits them better,” she added.

So the 18-year-old put what sewing skills she had to use and started a larger effort to teach other teenagers sewing skills to make free masks for children. Project Masked has donated more than 2,000 masks to local nonprofits so far, and more than 150 volunteers have lent a helping hand.

Pan is now a first-year Washington University student pursuing medicine — and credits the Project Masked experience with expanding and deepening her interests in her chosen field.

“Growing up in the suburbs, I'm limited going to just a couple places around St. Louis. … But when I go out and distribute masks, I don't choose where I go. And so I go wherever there's a need. And so the past, I think it's been five, six months now, I've been to all parts of St. Louis,” she said.

“It's really opened my eyes up to a lot,” she added, in regards to the health disparities in the region. “Driving around and seeing everything unfiltered really gave me a new perspective on the city. ... And so I really, really don't take anything for granted anymore. I really am aware of the issues that do exist and what we need to do moving forward.”

On Friday’s talk show, Pan joined host Sarah Fesnke to discuss her ongoing effort and how the masks are distributed across the St. Louis region.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Shelei Pan is a first-year student at Washington Univeristy in St. Louis, and a graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School.
/ Shelei Pain
Shelei Pain
Shelei Pan is a first-year student at Washington Univeristy in St. Louis, and a graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School.