- Associated Press - Sunday, July 5, 2020

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - Students and faculty at the University of Lynchburg will be required to wear masks when campus reopens for the fall semester in August. Thanks to members of the university community, they’ll be provided hand-sewn, reusable cloth masks at no cost.

On June 25, the university announced its face mask policy for the fall semester, which indicates all students, faculty and staff must wear masks or facial coverings while in classrooms and other public spaces on campus. Masks may be removed when exercising, eating or when social distancing of six feet is achievable. Violation of the university’s mask policy may result in disciplinary action.

Michael Jones, associate vice president of communications and marketing for the university, said masks are vital to ensuring student and staff safety when classes begin on Aug. 12.

Overwhelmed with the task of purchasing commercial masks for students, Jones said he came up with the idea of having the community make them.

“I thought it could be a great way to engage our community, despite our being dispersed by COVID-19,” Jones said in an email.

The university launched “Sewcial Hornets,” a project geared toward connecting alumni and other members of the university community and facilitating the sewing of masks. The group’s Facebook page connected nearly 350 members from across the country to donate their services to the project.

With a goal of 10,000 masks, Heather Garnett, director of alumni relations at the university, said more than 6,500 have been committed and 1,000 have been received. In the spring, the university had 2,700 total students and Garnett said they hope to provide each student and faculty member with two masks.

Once they’re received, the masks are sanitized and placed into sterile bags for storage. Masks will be distributed to students and staff as they return to campus in August along with hand sanitizer and other essential supplies they may need. Volunteers from all over Virginia and several other states, including Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware and more are contributing to the cause.

Jones said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, the president-elect for the university, is a “self-described fabric artist” and has sewn several masks to donate already. Garnett said some students and faculty members have also donated their time and skills toward the goal, but much of the support comes from alumni.

Holly Jacks, a Bedford County resident and graduate of the institution, said she got involved in the project in June when she saw the group through a Facebook friend.

Jacks said she hadn’t touched a sewing machine before April of this year, but wanted to get involved in helping people access masks during the pandemic. Since then, she’s donated 750 masks to various groups in the Lynchburg area, including 100 to the University of Lynchburg.

College campuses are a hub of activity, Jacks said, so she knows those on campus won’t always be able to socially distance. She said she wanted to do her part in ensuring students at her alma mater can remain safe as they continue their educations, and she’s been excited to see so many volunteers doing their part, too.

“It’s wonderful to see the positivity right now, and it’s even more wonderful to get to be a part of that,” Jacks said.

Those who can’t sew are donating money or supplies, or helping with the steps they can, such as cutting fabric or tying elastic. Jennifer Light, admissions counselor at the university, said she doesn’t know how to sew, but she knows how to use scissors.

She’s cut fabric for more than 400 masks so far, and that fabric is being delivered to volunteers ready to finish the process.

“I’ve been working with students to get them here, so I want to make sure we’re bringing them back as safely as possible,” Light said.

TJ Harvey, a rising senior at the university, said he’s looking forward to being back on campus for his senior year, though things will look different.

Harvey said he knows how uncomfortable masks are, and having to wear one all day every day would be something to get used to.

“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge at the beginning of the semester,” Harvey said. “But, as time goes on, I think it’ll work out great for the campus.”

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