Durham, N.C. — The coronavirus pandemic has brought its struggles to the residents of the Triangle. But for a Durham woman, the pandemic is how she found her purpose: making masks for family, friends and strangers.
Now, it’s turned into her own small business, and it all started with a $40 sewing machine from Walmart.
“It takes all of five minutes to make a mask,” described Michelle Kelly.
During the beginning of the pandemic, Kelly wrote to WRAL News’ Kasey Cunningham.
“I remember the day we saw you on the news, and you were pulling on your mask and kept adjusting. I was like, I got to make this lady a mask. I’m going to make her a mask and send it to her. I’m tired of seeing her pulling that mask up on her face,” recounted Kelly.
Masks were also new to Kelly.
“I didn’t even know how to sew,” she said. “I was having a nervous breakdown with the pandemic and putting myself into every conspiracy theory you can think of. My children were like, ‘Mom, you need to take all this energy and put it into something positive.'”
With a a little leftover fabric, WiFi and and a sewing machine, she got started.
“I made my own pattern by watching a YouTube video. I just started making masks because I couldn’t do anything to help anybody out. So, I’m like, well, maybe I can just help keep people safe,” said Kelly.
She made hundreds of masks and gave them to nurses at WakeMed, strangers, neighbors, friends and even WRAL reporters.
“I started making them with the supplies that I had, and then I ran out, and people wanted to buy them,” said Kelly. “It was between [buying] hotdogs or fabric, and we just stuck our necks out there and got fabric, and it just went from there.”
Now, Kelly said she has made at least 5,000 masks over the past year.
But it was just the beginning for the “Mask Genie.”
“Now, I do T-shirts, air fresheners, keychains, stuffed animals, memory pillows, glasses frames, ball caps, bandanas, doggy bandanas, doggy jackets. It’s like 30 different things,” said Kelly.
For Kelly, the mask business turned into something bigger and something greater — a purpose through a pandemic.
“Never did I imagine you would be here in my kitchen, much less a full-fledged business,” she added.
While the country moves a little further from masks, Kelly said she holds a little piece of of each one closely.
“I made a quilt out of scraps of my masks, so I knew that, when the year came, because I thought it would only last a year, that I would have something to show for it,” she said.
“Never did I imagine you would be here in my kitchen, much less a full fledged business,” she added.