Nonprofit Creates Jobs and Donates Thousands of Masks a Day

Staff from Center on Halsted, the Midwest’s most comprehensive community center dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people of Chicagoland.

Emily Fleming, a second year undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Strategic Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a member of the Threads community and the Spring 2020 Design and Fashion Event Practicum class. Shortly after Covid-19 hit, Emily began looking for ways to help others during this crisis, and her mother created an opportunity. 

In just one month, Sewing Masks for a Safe Chicago has raised over $215,000 in donations, has produced and donated 55,000 masks, and has created jobs for over 40 seamstresses and tailors during this economic crisis. Tanya Polsky—my mother and inspiration—initiated a large-scale, women-led effort while texting her friends about ways they could try to help others during the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with several other moms, she was able to assemble an incredible team to sew masks, and started fundraising right away.

The team at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Not only is this project creating jobs with living wages for the seamstresses and tailors—most of which have had extensive experience sewing and tailoring clothing for top designers and brands in the fashion world—but it is providing much-needed protection for those most in need. Every mask is washable, reusable, and made of high-quality cotton. Over 3,000 masks are sewn and delivered each day to frontline healthcare workers, emergency first responders, homeless shelters, food pantries, and other organizations that are in need. However, we have big plans to expand nationally—and with the help of everyone reading this, it will be possible. 

The organization has donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to over 80 organizations as of today, including the Chicago Police Department, UIC Homeless Project, and so many more. 100% of funds raised go directly to the production and distribution of the masks, and all donations are tax-deductible thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Association of Veterans of World War II. Every single dollar counts, so everyone is encouraged to contribute whatever they can—because donating just $4 means one extra person will be protected. 

Those at Misericordia, a non-profit organization that offers a community of care that maximizes the potential for persons with mild to profound developmental disabilities.

Although we may all be separated in quarantine, this is a time where we can truly come together. Strangers aren’t strangers anymore, we are all responsible for keeping each other safe and healthy. This year is a rare occurrence in history: I’ve never lived to see a time where every person is working towards a common goal, until now. As we work towards regaining safety and normalcy in a scary, economically straining time, we must think of others. No matter how little we can contribute, there is a person in need on the other end of the donation that will appreciate it. 

After delivering masks to Chicago nurses, we received a note from them that said, “thank you so so much for the masks. We are forever grateful for them! Everyone here is going crazy over them… It’s people like you that will get us through this tough time.” Seeing the pictures and quotes people send in after receiving the masks proves how important this work is; there is no better feeling than knowing you have done some good, and have helped someone protect themselves and others while doing their job. 

You can find our Gofundme page at to donate, or find more ways to get involved. 

This article is one of a series of student-developed projects and articles, as part of Threads: React in response to the global pandemic and distance learning, Threads: React seeks to create on-going conversation and dialogue on the intersections of design and current social issues. React is an on-line initiative of the Design and  Fashion Event class in the School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.