January 17, 2021
AHA Freshman & Friends Craft Over 400 Masks for Hospital Staff
Prior to the pandemic, few people would have mentioned sewing as a key life-saving skill, but times have changed. Just ask Academy of the Holy Angels freshman Georgette “Gigi” Ochs and her childhood friends, sisters Paloma and Giuliana Di Geronimo, all of whom spent the last year sewing over 400 protective face masks for staff at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“I was looking for a way to help my community and was inspired when I realized that I had a skill that was useful at this time,” Ochs said, noting that she was motivated by stories of people in need.
Ochs started to take sewing classes at the Fair Lawn Recreation Center when she was in first grade. Over the years, the borough resident has continued to take sewing classes and attend sewing camps.
“I had always taken sewing classes with my friends. As soon as quarantine started, I got an email from one of the sewing teachers, a former nurse.
She described how medical workers had to throw away valuable N-95 masks after one use because they didn’t have any washable masks to go over them, and she attached an easy mask pattern for us to sew. I decided I would try to help and began to make masks. Since then, I’ve teamed up with two of my friends, Giuliana and Paloma, and we have sewn over 400 masks for various essential workers in the community.”
Ochs added, “Before I started making the masks, quite a few people I saw were wearing them incorrectly. When I started making the masks, I made sure to size them correctly for men, women, and children. Also, medical workers who are wearing these can wear their N95 masks underneath so that their PPE supplies last longer.”
A family friend who is a nurse to COVID patients at Lenox Hill Hospital delivers the masks to the hospital staff.
These critical care workers are being hailed for their work, and so are the teen volunteers. Last fall, Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso declared November 24, 2020 Gigi Ochs and Paloma Di Geronimo and Giuliana Di Geronimo Day. His proclamation expressly states his “sincere appreciation for (their) kind and compassionate actions to help others.”
Ochs acknowledged that it feels wonderful to make a difference.
Early last year, Ochs started this outreach with a sizeable supply of fabric. As demand for the masks grew, her mother purchased additional supplies and friends began to donate fabric.
“I have a sewing table set up in my basement just for this purpose. It houses my trusty sewing machine, my sewing box, and tons of fabric and elastic,” Ochs reported. “Recently, my younger brother has helped sew them as well. My friends also sew their masks in their home, but when the pandemic is over we hope to sew together in person again.”
The teens started sewing masks in early March 2020. They have come a long way since then.
“The first day I started making masks, I could only get through one,” Ochs recalled. “The fabric was all bunched up and the pleats were uneven. With practice, I quickly got the hang of it and, within a week, I started to distribute masks…I never would have expected that the need for masks would continue for almost a year.”
Although Ochs has made clothes, pillowcases, pincushions, and stuffed animals (including one gigantic dog), masks are her favorite thing to sew. She now completes one in about seven minutes.
“I can whip up about 5-10 in a day, depending on how much time I have,” she added.
Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.