Finishing out her junior year of high school from home, with all of her activities canceled, Emma Rossilli found herself with quite a bit of time on her hands. At the same time, she struggled to process the grim news coming in: thousands of people dying of COVID-19, millions losing their jobs practically overnight, and the innumerable consequences of the public health and economic crisis on families. So, she pulled out her sewing machine and got to work.
As of late May, Rossilli had sewn and sold more than 250 cloth face masks, raising nearly $2,000 for organizations that are providing families support in the face of the pandemic.
“My dad’s still working. I’m healthy. I’m still able to do school, and I don't have the responsibilities that a lot of other kids my age are having,” she said. “I just felt really lucky but also kind of useless that I was just sitting here.”
Rossilli’s efforts serve up a double dose of good: Masks help reduce the risk of viral transmission for the wearer and those around them, and the funds she raises support those who are facing hardship.
After researching nonprofits focused on helping children — “I just love kids and there are so many kids who need help,” she explained — she decided to donate the first $500 she raised to No Kid Hungry, which works to end childhood hunger.
“I’m really lucky and I’ve never had any trouble getting food or anything,” Rossilli said. “But it makes me really sad that a lot of kids do. A lot of kids can’t get their school lunches right now because they’re not at school. No Kid Hungry helps kids with that, especially right now.”
The second $500 went to Diaper Bank of North Carolina, which ensures that families living in poverty have access to diapers. “There’s a lot of people who can’t get diapers right now, which is so sad. I can’t imagine not having diapers for your baby,” she said.
Rossilli donated the third $500 she raised to Shining Light in Darkness, which works to support victims of domestic violence. “It is a very pressing issue at this time because people have been stuck at home with their abusive partners,” Rossilli explained.
This isn’t the first time she has put her skills to work to help others. As a ninth-grader, she was inspired by then-senior Cami Simpson’s (’18) work to support abandoned children in Romania. That inspired the launch of Rossilli’s baking business — Cookies for Cause — and she raised more than $400 for Simpson’s efforts by baking and selling Valentine’s Day treats. She has also baked to raise funds for JUST TRYAN IT, a nonprofit that supports families of pediatric cancer patients.
Before she started her mask-making project, Rossilli had a good bit of sewing experience — from making clothes for her dolls years ago, to making a pillow for her dad — and had taken a few sewing classes.
She made her first few masks for family members who are nurses in New York, and then she asked her mother to post about her masks on Facebook.
“Right away I got an overwhelming number of orders,” Rossilli recalled.
After making more than 250 masks, Rossilli has her “one-person assembly line” down to a science. She makes several masks at once — cutting the fabric, pinning them and then sewing them. When she was juggling school work and mask-making, she made about 12 masks every day or so, but she anticipates amping up production with her free time this summer.
While she’s sewing, she does what many of us have done to pass the time during the pandemic — she catches up on Netflix.
“As far as the sewing skills, it just shows how it’s great to be exposed to different things because you never know when they're going to come in handy,” she said. “And it’s also fun because I can make my friends cute masks. I think we're going to be wearing masks for a long time.”
Rossilli is grateful to those who have helped her efforts: her mother, who has helped pay for materials to ensure that 100% of the funds raised are donated; everyone who has donated materials; her family members, who have surrendered their kitchen table to her sewing machine and ran errands; and fellow rising DA senior Katherine Lantzy and her family, who offered their home as a mask pickup location.
“It just makes me feel like I’m making more of a difference because I’ve raised almost $2,000 dollars now, which is a lot of money,” Rossilli said. “So it’s not just a little bit of money — and it just makes me feel like I’m actually helping people. I feel really lucky to be able to do that.”