How Sewing Masks for School Children During the Pandemic Led to Making Desks For Veterans

How Sewing Masks for School Children During the Pandemic Led to Making Desks For Veterans


During the pandemic, Jo-Ann Hornyak and Anne Kirkpatrick – long-time friends, neighbors, and members of the Somers Congregational Church, UCC – set up sewing machines at one of the larger rooms in the church building and started making masks for the local schools to be given to students when they returned to in-building learning.  The duo recruited others and although the sanctuary was still closed, church members’ hearts were open as they donated fabric and elastic for the project and volunteered to help while they themselves wore masks and kept social distanced.

Jo-Ann Hornyak and Anne Kirkpatrick present desks to Lesbia Nieves, Director of Residential Services at Rocky Hill Veteran’s Home.
“It was a great outlet for people who wanted to do something to help,” said Kirkpatrick.

When the schools re-opened, the church was able to donate 650 masks in various sizes.

While working on the school mask project, Hornyak and Kirkpatrick learned from the teachers that many students who were attending school remotely could be seen on screen sitting uncomfortably on their beds or at the kitchen table during class time – which they knew did not create the best environment for learning.

The two got an idea, recruited some folks, looked online, found some desks they thought they could build themselves, got some instruction and measurements from various YouTube videos and started their new desk ministry.  They modified the design a bit to include an enclosed shelf, drew a diagram, made a prototype from scrap wood, and presented the idea to the Superintendent of Schools. With his blessing and appreciation, the group moved ahead.

Still working with masks on, church volunteers used one of the unused Sunday school rooms for a desk workshop where wood was sanded, primed, painted, and assembled into two different sized models to accommodate elementary and middle school children. The materials, which cost around $50 per desk, were paid out of a church memorial fund that had been started in 2013 by Hornyak herself in memory of her husband who passed from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Over a 3-month period, 60 desks were donated to everyone in the elementary school or middle school who wanted one. In addition, they built 5 desks for a domestic abuse organization.

“There are very few projects that give 78-year-old women the opportunity to use power tools,” joked Hornyak.  “But seriously, everyone was very appreciative of the desks.” Many parents sent them thank you emails and photos of the children working at their new desks.

They didn’t stop there, though.  The two women are quite active in the community and have volunteered for several years at “Stand Down Day” where they drive golf carts to help Veterans to get around.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs explains on its website that “Stand Downs are typically one- to three-day events during which VA staff and volunteers provide food, clothing and health screenings to homeless and at-risk Veterans. In addition, Veterans also receive referrals for health care, housing solutions, employment, substance use treatment, mental health counseling and other essential services.”

“We have seen different organizations set up booths and give away socks, hats, and mittens,” said Kirkpatrick.  “But we thought flannel shirts would be something that everyone could use, and no one else was giving away.”  So the two partnered with the church’s Mission Board and have started collecting flannel shirts for the next year.  Their goal is to collect 500 flannel shirts by September’s Stand Down Day so they can give a shirt to every Veteran who attends.

The flannel shirt project for Veterans then sparked the idea to go back to their successful desk ministry and provide desks for the Rocky Hill Veteran’s Home.  Twenty desks, slightly taller than the ones previously made, were planned, and 15 of them have already been delivered.

“During some of the project work, some people at church did ask us if this was really going to make a difference.  Then you see the Veterans who have nothing and you say, yes,” said Hornyak. 

Both women agree that they and the other volunteers get more out of the projects than what they give, so they have to continue doing more as they can never break even.

“Life has been good to us, God has been good to us, and those of us who can, need to continue giving back,” said Hornyak.

“We are reaching out to others in the community, and we are figuring out different ways we can help,” said Kirkpatrick.  “We are just a small church doing church.”


Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane

Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane writes news articles for the SNEUCC website. She is also the editor of the Starting With Scripture newsletter. Contact her if: Your church has a great story to tell about an innovative ministry. You have a prayer request to ...

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