VALDOSTA – Students and professors at Valdosta State University are helping the community using their talents during a time when it is needed most.

Chalise Ludlow, costume designer and assistant professor of VSU Theatre and Dance, saw a need for masks. She and her dedicated students fired up their sewing machines.

“I have amazing students who, even in their quarantine, are willing to use their skills,” Ludlow said.

When it was brought to their attention that the Valdosta Police Department was in need of masks, the group began working on the 150-piece task.

“They (VPD) are doing so much for us during this time,” Ludlow said. “These people are on the front lines and don't get to stay in place; they have to go out and protect people. It's important to keep them safe.”

Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan, a Blazer alum, could not be more pleased with the donations.

“This is a time we need our community partners more than ever. The VSU costume design faculty and students are coming through in a big way. We’re thankful to have committed partners like that. Our officers will benefit from these vital items during these unprecedented times. Today and every day I am so proud to be a Blazer,” Manahan said.

The masks aren't just for VPD; they're available for order by anyone via a Facebook page called “The Mask Force.”

“It's just getting started,” Ludlow said. “We will make them until there is no longer a need.”

Donations of both materials and time have helped keep the project free and allow volunteers to cut down on time spent creating each mask.

Ludlow, a self-proclaimed fabric hoarder, was able to dig through some old boxes of unused fabric for some of the masks.

“I have been going through boxes of fabric; I had tons left over from grad schools,” Ludlow said. “I had some huge bolts of the ugliest fabric known to man.”

Her leftover fabrics, unattractive or not, paired with fabric and filter donations from the community keep the volunteer seamstresses going.

Standard air filters, such as those found in homes, are cut up to serve as the filter inside the mask.

Kathalina Thorpe, a theater major who juggles being a mother with mask sewing, keeps track of all the donations, whether monetary or supplies. She noted that many have also sent sheets, elastic and rubber bands and there is still a need for supplies, specifically elastics and wire for the nose bands.

Joi Pitts, another theater major working from home, said the masks are reversible and, instead of going around the ears, fit snugly around a person's head.

The group creates not only adult masks, but masks for children ages 2 and older.

Ludlow has not lived in Valdosta long and has been floored by the response and giving nature of the community.

“It's a testament to this beautiful community we have here. Even if they don't know how to sew, they are still so willing to help,” Ludlow said. “It just reminds me how precious life is.”

To donate or for more information, “The Mask Force” can be found via Facebook. 

Desiree Carver is a reporter at the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be reached at (229) 244-3400 ext. 1215.

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