Man and woman holding basket with masks

Echelon Hawaii member starts mask sewing drive

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The project is generating thousands of face masks for Oahu’s essential workers.

By Karen Gleason –

Lauren Matsumoto, a member of Echelon Hawaii—The Salvation Army’s young adult advisory organization—and a representative for Hawaii’s 45th House District, has been coordinating project #malamasks, a mask sewing drive, in her community since mid-March. In Hawaiian, malama means “to take care of” or “to protect.” The idea came to her earlier in the month, when the coronavirus began its surge in the United States.

Her mother runs the family’s egg farm. As fear of COVID-19 grew, hundreds of people began lining up daily for eggs. Matsumoto realized her mother and the other workers there were at risk. She then thought of all the other workers who interact with the public daily.

“My husband is a firefighter and I know how important N95 masks are for medical workers and first responders, so I didn’t want to take away from their supply but I wanted to protect workers like my mother,” she said. “So I started the project #malamamasks to begin sewing fabric masks for those who work in grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses. Those childhood sewing lessons are paying off!”

Matsumoto had the means to make the project happen. She partnered with her husband Scott’s family business, Hawaii Mercantile LLC, a fabric supplier for clothing production, which cut and donated the fabric and elastic for 2,000 masks. Community volunteers helped sew the masks. The volunteers picked up kits, each with the supplies to sew 20 masks, from the family farm.

“It was so encouraging to see how many people from the community immediately jumped in to start sewing masks for those still working,” Matsumoto said. “I even had three of my former school teachers sewing masks and enlisting help from their friends as well. It truly was a community effort.” 

One of the first places to receive the masks was Costco, “one of the backbones of the Hawaii community,” Matsumoto said. She hand delivered 340 masks to the local Costco to thank employees and encourage them during this time.

Oahu Transit Services, Inc., which provides The Bus and The Transit Van, also received donated masks.

Woman at counter with face mask on

“Obtaining PPEs [personal protective equipment] for our employees has become difficult, if not impossible,” said Edwin S. Bolosan, Assistant Superintendent of Maintenance for Oahu Transit Services, Inc. “Lauren Matsumoto and her team generously donated reusable masks to us. Having these masks allowed us to manage and appropriately provide our limited supply of N/P95 rated masks for the sections performing job tasks that require their filtration efficiency to keep them safe. When we distributed the masks, our employees were pleasantly surprised and deeply appreciative to find out they were donated…They feel that much safer in uncertain times.”

Project #malamamasks is growing.

“When the CDC called for masks for everyone, the demand exploded,” Matsumoto said. “We went back and cut 5,000 more. These are being prepared by professional sewers.”

Neither family business is making any profit from the project. Hawaii Mercantile covers the cost of materials. Masks can be purchased at the farm for $5 each. For each one sold, Matsumoto donates three to companies that need them. The purchase price covers the cost of the professional sewers.

Matsumoto has been part of Echelon Hawaii since its first meeting. A former Miss Hawaii, she was invited by another Miss Hawaii to the first meeting, and she immediately felt an affinity with the group.

“Echelon embodied what’s important to me; it’s faith-based and community-minded.” she said. “Plus it was nice to find a group of young professionals with these ideals. With some other groups, I was 30 years younger than everyone else…I was asked to come to that first meeting, and I’ve been with Echelon ever since.”

Within Echelon, Matsumoto serves as chair of the Red Pencil Project, which provides ongoing support and character-building activities to children throughout the school year. 

See Matsumoto’s video tutorial on how to sew a fabric face at



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