For lots of teenagers, summer vacation means sleeping late, bingeing Netflix shows and going to the beach. But this isn’t your average summer. And Ella Holland and Jaeden Geffon aren’t your average teenagers.
The Jewish siblings recently launched MaskUP St. Pete
, a nonprofit that makes and sells masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. For each mask they sell, they donate another one to a person in need. Since their website went live at the end of June, they’ve been working with local agencies to get masks into the hands of homeless people. They also plan to distribute masks to teachers in need-based schools.
For Ella and Jaeden, both 16 and students at Shorecrest Preparatory School, starting a nonprofit ties directly to their Jewish heritage and the concept of tikkun olam, acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.
The teens are active in their youth group at Temple Beth-El and have been counselors at Camp Jenny, the Union for Reform Judaism’s program for children from impoverished neighborhoods. They also have volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House. Their parents are Elliott and Miranda Holland of Treasure Island.
“It’s about helping the community,” Jaeden said. “When the coronavirus got bad, we knew we wanted to do something to help people.”
What they didn’t know was how to start their own nonprofit, build a website… or sew masks. That didn’t deter the siblings, who’ve always had a knack for creativity and aren’t afraid of a little hard work.
"The nonprofit part was easy and the website took a few weeks to set up," Ella said.
As for the masks, they’re currently being made by a family friend, although the siblings handle purchasing the materials and doing the prep work cutting the fabric and the ear pieces. “It’s taken over our whole dining room,” Ella said.
The kids were recently gifted a new sewing machine from someone in the community who saw what they were doing, and they plan to learn how to start sewing masks themselves.
The siblings started filling orders the day their site went live, thanks to lots of promotion on social media and word of mouth among family and friends. They’ve already sold more than 800 masks, taking orders from as far away as Norway. All proceeds are funneled back into their business because, let’s face it, masks are probably here to stay for a while.
MaskUP’s patterns are fun and whimsical, featuring everything from mermaids to martians. They also sell masks for various college and pro sports teams.
“We try to find patterns we think people will like,” Jaeden said. “We want it to be more of a fashion statement and not political.”
Now that they’ve gotten into the groove, the siblings have their eyes on expanding their business and possibly bringing in more people to sew if demand gets too high. They’re hopeful that the work they’re doing is helping flatten the curve, and that they can help people have a little fun while doing their part to keep the community safe.