At a small table in the corner of her living room, Asila Parwa sews facemasks in different colors and styles. At one point, with her husband’s help, she sewed as many as 200 in a week.
“We didn’t have a job, we didn’t have income. My husband and me thought if we make more masks, it is helpful for people,” said Parwa.
Parwa, a refugee from Afghanistan who resettled in the United States three and a half years ago, earns $25 for every four masks. The work provided a lifeline for herself, her husband and their young daughter – navigating a pandemic in a new country.
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“It means a lot,” said Parwa. “It is important for our family.”
“The refugee population is among the most vulnerable populations in Dallas,” said Samira Page with Gateway of Grace Ministry.
Page, who was once a refugee herself, said refugees are quietly struggling during the pandemic.
“They have entry-level jobs, they are the first to be laid off,” explained Page. “They're amongst the most difficult to find a job after they been laid off. It's been very difficult for them.”
Gateway of Grace launched Project Mask in March. Since then, Page says 15 refugees have made 3,500 masks. Gateway of Grace provides the fabric and patterns, so mask proceeds go directly to the refugee seamstresses.
“We told them that they would be a part of something that's bigger than just themselves and their family. And that was a huge deal for them,” said Page.
This week, the effort is pivoting to provide masks to people in South Dallas.
Gateway of Grace is partnering with The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. Dr. Jennifer Smith is a Deacon in the church and helped make the connection.
“I am a pediatric physician,” explained Smith. “We have had a lot of patients in the hospital affected with COVID and through the several first months of it, it was mostly people of color.”
COVID-19 has widened disparities in North Texas communities. NBC 5 Investigates reported on hot zones, many in South Dallas, where people are more at risk of developing serious complications in the pandemic.
“To be able to help this vulnerable population who have had a hard time in life, because they have experienced racism, to be able to help them with some protection by giving them masks and then to have the added bonus of benefiting these women who are trying to make their way and our country as refugees. It's just great seeing all of this fall together,” added Smith.
Project Mask is working to make 500 masks for adults and 500 for children.
Customers can also buy masks for their families. Page said the masks can be delivered or mailed within a few days.
Page said the next goal is to set up a permanent online shop to continue to provide a lifeline to North Texas refugees.
“It's really empowering because many of these women, they had never worked before. They have never earned an income or received a check in their name, so this was a big deal,” Page explained.
“It is the call of every Christian to love unconditionally and to be an instrument of God's healing in our communities,” Page added.
To donate masks for the South Dallas project, go to Gateway of Grace's website and click the "donate now" button. Under the optional heading, use the drop down menu to select "in honor of" then type in "South Dallas Masks".
A $15 donation covers two masks, $25 dollars covers four masks.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.