ELOY -- Before the coronavirus pandemic began causing shortages of face masks and other supplies, 15-year-old Ruby Brown and Aryana Salazar, 21, had never used a sewing machine.

In the few months since, they’ve sewn more than 3,000 cotton face coverings, many of which have been donated.

“We were sewing so many that we broke my grandmother’s sewing machine and had to buy a new one,” Salazar said.

And the pair are still sewing.

Earlier this week, the duo donated dozens of masks to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program so that children in foster care can safely visit with their advocate, said Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Services program administrator.

“CASA needed masks for foster children and these young ladies came to the rescue,” McBride said.

Brown, a sophomore at Casa Grande Union High School, said that for her, the donation was personal. She was once in the foster care system and was later adopted by Norma and Tim Brown, Salazar’s grandparents.

“This was one way for me to give back,” Brown said. “When I was little, I was adopted. I had been in foster care. I’ve been through the same things some of these foster care kids are going through, so I wanted to help.”

In early March, Brown researched mask-making patterns and enlisted Salazar to help make as many face coverings as possible.

“It was the first week of quarantine in March and Ruby looked up YouTube videos on how to make the masks,” Salazar said. “There were shortages, and we wanted to help. We’d never sewn anything before.”

Brown and Salazar, a student at Northern Arizona University who hopes to become a speech pathologist, learned to sew while creating their first few masks.

Since then, they’ve been through hundreds of yards of fabric.

Each mask is made with 100% cotton fabric using a pattern that includes a nose piece and a pocket to insert a filter. Rather than elastic, the masks are made with nylon hose material to secure the face coverings behind the ear.

Each mask takes about 15 minutes to make and the two work as a team, taking turns cutting and sewing.

“We’re usually working three to four hours a day,” Salazar said.

While the two have donated many of the masks to various organizations, medical personnel and people in need, they’ve also made some money selling them for $5 each. Much of the proceeds go back into the project and is used to buy fabric and other supplies.

“Everyone in our family has some of the masks and they’ve given a lot away,” Norma Brown said. “They’re sewing all the time. I’m so proud of these girls.”

While they plan to continue making, donating and selling masks throughout the summer, the next goal for the two is to learn how to make surgical caps to donate to medical personnel.

“A nurse told us that there is a shortage of surgical caps so right now we’re researching how to make those,” Salazar said.

The two also hope to reach out to homeless advocates to donate masks to the homeless and others in need.

Those who would like to place an order for masks or request a donation may contact Norma Brown through private message on Facebook.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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