Fast action for homeless shelter

Selfie of a curly brown-haired woman wearing a dark green face mask

Story by Sarah Bach

Fashion and retail student made masks in quarantine

When Grace Nanni moved back to her family’s Cleveland home after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order, she didn’t expect to spend the next several weeks helping to save lives.

But while readjusting to home life, attending virtual classes and leading the Fashion Production Association remotely, the fashion and retail studies student received an email from Julie Hillery, clinical associate professor. A Delaware homeless shelter just north of Columbus needed face masks.

“I sent the announcement to students because I figured that many of them, like me, wanted to do something to help others through the pandemic,” Hillery said. “When there are times of trouble that cause uncertainness and anxiousness, the best way to get through it is to reach out to others who are in a worse situation.”

Face coverings are crucial for curbing the spread of COVID-19, but in the early days of the pandemic, the country faced severe shortages. The Center for Disease Control verifies that personal protective equipment for residents and staff at homeless shelters is important to keep doors open and protect particularly vulnerable people. So Nanni took quick action.

Nanni specializes in the business behind fashion and retail sales, so she first learned to sew while in quarantine.

“I taught myself how to sew by watching videos and from past knowledge watching others sew,” she said. “It is something I always wanted to learn how to do but never had the time, so quarantine was the perfect opportunity to focus on learning that skill.”

She crafted masks for Family Promise of Delaware County by recycling fabric from old t-shirts. She donated 50 masks and later donated an additional 30 for Oster Services, a Cleveland remodeling company.

Nanni is co-president of Ohio State’s Fashion Production Association, a student organization that promotes fashion design, advertising and event management. Through proceeds from the organization’s 2020 student fashion show, the group raised over $1,000 for Dress for Success Columbus, a non-profit group providing professional attire to women in need. The theme of this year’s show was Conviction: Fashion for Change.

Because of these unique times, Nanni says she found an unexpected application of her fashion skillset.

“People who can sew and people who have extra fabric became really valuable,” she said. “The community needed that talent around them. I don’t think that was really recognized before this all happened.”

When the stay-at-home order lifted in May, Nanni returned to work at Vamp Official, a boutique clothing store founded by Ohio State alumna Ellen Shirk. The small business had closed for three months but has since opened with health and safety precautions, such as wearing masks. Nanni continues to make masks for friends and family, hoping to make the community safer.

“I think the more people that have access to masks, the more our communities can keep growing,” she said.