BRHS grad starts initiative aimed at producing face masks

Area residents invited to sew handmade masks during coronavirus pandemic

MECOSTA, LAKE, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — As organizations run dangerously low on face masks during the coronavirus outbreak, a new initiative, Mask Up, recently started up in an effort to aid health agencies across the nation.

“Obviously, right now we are in the midst of a pandemic, and that means our hospitals are being filled over capacity, which means our healthcare professionals are seeing more patients than ever,” said Arya Rao, the co-founder of Mask Up and a 2018 graduate of Big Rapids High School. “We need to keep them safe. That should be our priority.”

Rao, who currently attends Columbia University in New York City, co-founded Mask Up with friend Kanav Kalucha. The organization gathers volunteers to create homemade masks and distributes them to health facilities across the nation.

“We have a mask shortage in the U.S. right now. The Centers for Disease Control have approved these homemade masks in dire situations like these — not as a replacement for the N95 surgical masks that are the standard, but to supplement them. And that’s something locals in Big Rapids can help with,” Rao said.

The idea of Mask Up is to be a nationwide service, but also provide residents with the opportunity to help organizations in their area, Rao said. For example, if a mask-maker is from Big Rapids, Mask Up will try to send the masks they create to an organization in or near Big Rapids.

“Right now, we are hoping to reach as many organizations that need them as possible,” she said. “As big as we can get.

“This is a nationwide effort.”

According to Rao, masks are already arranged to be sent to Cadillac- and Saginaw-area hospitals, as well as hospitals in New York, California, Wisconsin, Missouri, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Since creating the initiative last Sunday, Mask Up currently has 25 volunteers, with more signing up by the hour, Rao said.

“We’re looking for as many people as we can, and even if you can’t make a mask, there are ways you can help,” she said. “We can use our crafting abilities to make homemade masks and send them to the people who need them the most right now.”

Those interested in learning more may email Rao and Kalucha at or visit their website, The website provides mask-makers with the opportunity to sign up, as well as gives local organizations a chance to contact them, stating their needs for masks.

“We’re all in this together, in this coronavirus pandemic, and the best way we can end the pandemic is doing our part,” Rao said. “We all have to do the social distancing, we all have to wash our hands and take care of ourselves, but beyond that, there are things we can do, and it feels really good to be able to take an active role in that.”