Puget Sound Business Journal: Refugee Artisan Initiative executive director shares how they quickly pivoted to mask making

In the early days of the pandemic, the shortage of personal protective equipment was a concern for health care professionals and for essential workers.

Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman, a clinical pharmacist at the Polyclinic and executive director of the Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI), quickly recognized the need and mobilized. RAI was among the first to step up and make cloth masks, both for sale to the public and as donations to essential workers. So far, the initiative has crafted over 80,000 masks, with 10,000 of them donated.

Why did you start the Refugee Artisan Initiative in 2016? I started Refugee Artisan Initiative to combine my passion for working with refugee and immigrant women and my compassion as a clinical pharmacist. More importantly, I am inspired by my grandmother who was a single mother who raised three children as a seamstress. I learned the power of skills plus tools can change lives even if you have limited resources. As an immigrant, I understand the challenges many newcomers face. I want to give back by giving them the tools to succeed. I see their success as a reflection of my conviction.

Take us to the moment that you first realized Covid-19 would be a big deal. How did you respond? When Gov. Jay Inslee first announced that there would be no more in-person school on March 19. I was at RAI’s Maker’s Space in Lake City. As a clinical pharmacist, I immediately understood the seriousness of Covid-19 as a threat to public health. Then I looked at the inventory shelf with hundreds of clean/unused high thread count 100% cotton bed sheets. I knew they were the best material for making face masks. Overnight we cut up these sheets and made a tutorial video to teach our artisans how to make masks from home. In addition, I put up my first ever GoFundMe campaign to raise funds so we can make as many masks as quickly as possible to donate to front-line workers all over the Puget Sound region.

Search our shop