RAND Staff Member Helps Get Masks to Communities in Need


Mar 12, 2021

Jessica Arana (left) delivering over 1,400 handmade masks to Tia Chucha's cultural center in Sylmar, California, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Jessica Arana (left) delivering over 1,400 handmade masks to Tia Chucha's cultural center in Sylmar, California

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Jessica Arana, a member of the Art and Design team at RAND, is one of about 800 volunteers in the Auntie Sewing Squad, a mask-making effort started in March 2020 by comedian Kristina Wong. Arana is a Super Auntie—an organizer who finds communities in need and arranges help from the squad.

Arana got involved after asking the Aunties to make 30 masks for her own brother, an essential worker, and for her brother's colleagues when masks were still hard to find. Several friends had joined the group, and Arana was following the Aunties on Facebook.

“I thought, 'This is unbelievable. These strangers on the internet have now taken care of my family member,' and I was blown away by the generosity, speed, and capacity,” Arana said.

First, she donated to the effort but soon became an organizer focused on minority, immigrant, farmworker, and low-income communities. (A production editor at RAND, Amanda Wilson, also took part, as did former employee Amy Tofte.)

While the Aunties (who aren't all women) started out making masks for health care workers, essential workers, and the immunocompromised, the effort soon broadened: KN95 masks and water to farmworkers during the California wildfires; masks to civil rights protesters; and masks, sewing machines, and now knitted cold-weather gear to Native American communities. The group even taught kids to make masks over Zoom during the summer.

By the end of 2020, the Aunties had delivered more than 250,000 masks throughout the United States and across the Mexican border. The efforts of getting masks to asylum seekers and those in another country were led by Arana, and proved successful with her coordination and partners in mutual aid.

When will they stop? “When we're no longer needed,” Arana said. “Our mission is to make ourselves obsolete.”

— Melissa Bauman

Sources: cnn.com, Washington Post, culturas.us, Auntie Sewing Squad Facebook page