When Gov. JB Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order and shut down Illinois schools in March, Gabby Bulak wanted to do her part to help fight the pandemic.
So the seventh grader at Trinity Catholic started making masks.
“Once I heard about the stay-at-home order and everybody had to wear masks if they went out, I was planning on making [masks] for the hospital so they would have extras,” Bulak said.
That evolved to selling masks on Facebook and now at an Etsy shop called Stitches by Gabby.
Classmate Alyssa Savitch decided to do something to complement Bulak’s efforts, so she started making lanyards.
Savitch now has an Etsy shop as well, called CraftsbyAlyssaCo.
“Everyone has their masks on all the time, and when they take them off, they always fall down,” Savitch said. “I thought I’d make lanyards so when you take them off, they stay on you.”
Together, the pair has outfitted the entire seventh grade class at Trinity Catholic in La Salle with masks and lanyards, thanks to literature teacher and music director Alex Dittmer purchasing them for the students.
“When I first found out that Gabby and Alyssa were making and selling masks and lanyards, I wanted to figure out a way to encourage entrepreneurship in young people and specifically young women,” Dittmer said. “I purchased masks and lanyards for the class for several reasons. First, the other students will have a nice memento of their time in seventh grade. Second, I wanted to support my students in ways that aren’t just cheering them on at sport activities or concerts. I want them to find value and worth in things of a creative nature.”
The seventh graders are not only supplying masks and lanyards, but they’re donating half of their proceeds to charity.
Bulak is donating to the veterans home because Dittmer is a veteran.
Savitch’s proceeds are going to CCD Smiles, a charity that raises money and awareness of cleidocranial dysplasia, a skeletal disorder caused by a gene mutation.
“Both of these young women are great students, polite, kind and empathetic to others. So seeing them be successful as young business owners is not surprising,” Dittmer said. “In my opinion, part of being a teacher is to support and encourage students in activities and interests outside of the classroom, especially interests that have nothing to do with any type of social media.
“I’m proud of Gabby and Alyssa for the work they’ve done and the way they represent Trinity Catholic Academy. At Trinity, we believe in putting our faith into action, and by making masks and lanyards and donating a portion of their profits, they are doing that.”
Bulak learned to hand sew from her grandmother when she was 6 or 7 years old and initially started sewing the masks by hand.
She used some of her earnings from the masks to purchase a sewing machine.
“My grandma sews, and she taught me how to sew,” Bulak said. “When I got the machine, she came over one day to help me figure it out. From then on, I kind of taught myself how to do it. If I had any questions, I asked her, and she helped me.”
To make the masks, Bulak needs three pieces of fabric and elastic.
“You need two pieces for the fabric you want to see, then I use one inside for extra protection,” Bulak said. “I use two pieces of elastic. I stitch the elastic inside of the material then sew it all the way around. I flip it inside out then make the pleats. Then I sew around it again, and that’s it.”
Savitch’s process for lanyards involves ironing and sewing.
“I cut a 3-by-37 strip,” Savitch said. “I have a layer called shape flex. I put it on top, so it has more of a shape. Then, I iron it three times before I sew it.”