Sanah Sayani: How she turned her spa into a mask-making operation to protect people against COVID-19 (”1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

Former WECT News Anchor leads effort to create and distribute facemasks for free
Sanah Sayani, a former news anchor at WECT-TV, had to close her spa business in March because...
Sanah Sayani, a former news anchor at WECT-TV, had to close her spa business in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Once she learned about the need for face masks to protect against the virus, Sanah built 'Tucker Makes Masks', a volunteer operation that has already provided more than seven thousand free masks to groups and individuals in need.(Sanah Sayani)
Updated: Apr. 24, 2020 at 5:35 AM EDT
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TUCKER, GA. (WECT) - The sign above the front door says Thread Beauty Spa. But waxings and facials have not happened inside the business in weeks. Owner Sanah Sayani had to close the doors in early March because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it wasn’t long before another door opened, breathing new life into that commercial space.

“It was a freak accident I would say,” said Sanah, a former WECT weekend morning news anchor who left the news business in 2015 to be closer to her family in Atlanta. “I was scrolling (through her Facebook feed) and saw a tutorial to make a mask.”

It happened about the same time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said because of a shortage of protective equipment in some hospitals, healthcare workers on the front lines of treating the coronavirus pandemic could use scarves or bandanas for personal protection. Sanah messaged some friends in the healthcare industry upset about it, saying they needed proper equipment (PPE) to treat infected patients.

“I saw the tutorial, I read the article, said hey, ‘Maybe we can make our own’,” Sanah remembers telling herself. “I messaged a doctor friend in Dallas and she said, ‘Yes, we should all be wearing masks. Yes, the CDC is probably not recommending for everyone to wear a mask because there is a shortage!’. I said, ‘It can’t hurt to make masks and it can’t hurt to wear a mask!’ I just kind of had the idea, confirmed it with a couple doctor friends, they said, ‘Yes go for it’, and it just started. I did foresee that the CDC would eventually say wear a mask because other countries were already wearing it and it does no harm, so why not.”

On March 20, with a post on Facebook, the Tucker Makes Masks effort was born, named after the community where Thread Beauty Spa is located. Sanah relied on her mother’s sewing machine and skills at first. After researching the best type of fabric to use for masks, Sanah spent about $100 out of her own pocket for materials. They set up tables inside the spa and began cutting, measuring and stitching. The first masks off the newly-created assembly line went to family and friends. Social media posts featured finished masks in vibrant colors and patterns. Then an order came in for 25 masks needed at the local V-A hospital. Volunteers, some with sewing experience, contacted Sanah to be part of the effort of providing free masks to anyone in need.

“As the word started to spread, we started to get more orders,” Sanah said. “The local news picked it up here, and that catapulted the requests. We had one thousand requests in one day! We’ve caught up on everything now that the news impact has simmered down a little bit and the supply on the market has increased.”

So far Tucker Makes Masks has made and distributed nearly seven thousand free masks in a little more than one month. Donations started coming in to help offset the cost of supplies. Sanah set up a GoFundMe page to ensure the volunteers are able to get needed supplies to fill requests. There are now 10-15 people across the Tucker community involved in the different aspects of the endeavor.

“It’s not just me making the masks,” she says. “I’ve found a way to streamline it and make faster production ourselves. We have a countless number of volunteers in the community either making masks or getting the fabric or doing just a couple parts of the mask-making process. The community has come together in whatever possible way they can help us to meet the goals.”

Sanah says it takes about fifteen minutes to make each mask, and the Tucker Makes Masks crew now churns out between 300-400 a day. They’ve shipped all across the United States, and even sent an order to the United Kingdom. Sanah plans to keep TMM going, as long as there is a need and she can help meet it.

“I’m thrilled to be doing this,” she says with a smile under her facemask. “I started this with the idea of getting a mask in everyone’s hand. I didn’t think it was going to get past this community, but it did. I look forward to it every day because of the sheer volume of people who are impacted by this. If you need something and I can get you that, I’m going to get you that. That’s the spirit of this community. I look forward to doing this because I feel like someway or another, I’m still able to help people, and right now we need people helping people.”

My interview with Sanah covered several other aspects of her tremendously successful effort, including her need for more volunteers to help meet the steady stream of requests for facemasks. It’s encouraging to see someone step up and lead the way to help others in these challenging times. I hope you enjoy the conversation with this difference maker as much as I did.

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