Ana Clarkson ’21 led effort to produce thousands of cloth masks
Back in March, Ana Clarkson ’21 was on a spring break trip with the Connecticut College sailing program in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The trip kicked off with the Camels winning the Rudkin Team Race hosted by Eckerd College. On the second day of action, the Camels went a perfect 12-0 to finish the regatta with a 20-4 record overall.
Three days later, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and Connecticut College made the decision to shift to remote learning. Everyone suddenly had to return home.
For Clarkson, home is Seattle, Washington, one of the earliest cities to experience community spread of the COVID-19 virus in the United States.
“It was definitely a little stressful to pack up my whole life at school and fly across the country,” Clarkson said. “I have a really supportive family though, so they helped me come back home and transition to online learning.”
As she witnessed the early impacts of the pandemic firsthand, Clarkson jumped into action.
“I saw some talk on Facebook about homemade masks and decided to see if there was a need in the community for fabric masks,” she said. “I found the Facebook page for Seamstresses Unite and joined it right away. They are based north of Seattle, so I contacted the founder to see if they had any need in the Seattle area. She asked me to become the ‘Team Lead’ for the greater Seattle area.”
When she isn’t sailing, Clarkson enjoys cooking, skiing and—very helpful in this case—sewing.
“I have been sewing since I was in elementary school. So, when I saw that this was a way to help my community, it felt very doable,” she said.
In her role as team lead, Clarkson organized a group of 15 seamstresses to sew thousands of masks for those in need and on the front lines. She was also in charge of securing supplies, and put out a call on Facebook for fabric donations.
“A lot of quilters who had back stock of fabric were willing to donate to the cause as well,” Clarkson said. “Along with fabric donations, we raised money and were able to purchase fabric, elastic, and pipe cleaners to help fit the nose.”
From April through early June, Clarkson spent about three hours a day on weekdays and about five hours a day during the weekend focused on the endeavor, all while maintaining an outstanding GPA as a double major in human development and biology and as a scholar in the Public Health Pathway.
An experienced seamstress herself, Clarkson would cut all the supplies, organize them into packs of 20 for each seamstress, drop the supplies off at their house, pick up completed masks, and then deliver them where they were needed.
In all, the organization produced 12,000 masks in 12 weeks and delivered them to hospital workers, assisted living staff, farm workers and other essential workers. Clarkson and her group also sent some masks to medical and biochemistry labs in Seattle that were researching coronavirus early in the pandemic.
“We would have requests come in for anywhere between two masks and up to a thousand masks, so we just tried getting masks out as fast as we could to fill the requests and help as many people as possible,” Clarkson said. “It was really amazing to see how easily people came together to help each other in the middle of such uncertainty. There was an outpouring of support and a drive to help in any way.”
Connecticut College head sailing coach Jeff Bresnahan said Clarkson sets a great example for her fellow student-athletes and new recruits.
“Ana has been the shining star in rebuilding our women’s sailing team to a nationally-ranked program. Young sailors are coming to campus meeting her and making the choice to be a Camel and part of our next run at a national championship. Ana is a leader on our Team Leadership Council, and she is a champion and leader in whatever she puts her mind to.”