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'I have a gift': Local dry cleaner's masks in demand across the country
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'I have a gift': Local dry cleaner's masks in demand across the country

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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sue Sharp had never made a cloth mask in her life.

Once her Santa Maria business Aloha Cleaners and Alterations was hit by the economic impacts of the virus, however, Sharp found herself making hundreds of face coverings for individuals and businesses across the country. 

A customer helped kick-start her new endeavor after he saw masks Sharp had made for her family and requested 250 of them for employees at his company. 

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The combination of a drop in business at the shop she's owned for 17 years and an interest in helping her community spurred Sharp to agree. Afterward, her niece helped her advertise her masks on social media to reach more customers. 

"I thought, 'Maybe some people will want to help our local business,'" Sharp recalled. "After one day, we had 5,000 orders." 

Along with individuals requesting masks, orders have come in from medical facilities, school districts, senior living facilities, landscaping companies and growers seeking masks for field workers, Sharp said.

Due to the flood of orders, Sharp decided to prioritize essential businesses including hospitals and medical offices to prevent them from getting stuck on a weekslong waiting list. 

"We got thinking, 'OK, we have some essential businesses here. We'll make them a priority' ... we want to help them first," Sharp said. 

Masks made at Aloha are $10 each, and are offered both online in a range of patterns including sporty, floral and heart-covered, and in-store in basic black and navy colors. 

Making and shipping masks every day since early April, Sharp now has sent out over 1,000 across the country, and is wondering how she will complete the thousands of other orders eagerly submitted online. 

The main challenge is acquiring fabric and elastic, both of which have multiplied in cost since the outbreak of the virus, she said.

On top of mask-making, Aloha is still offering limited dry cleaning and alteration services.

"I have no idea if I can reach that many, I don’t think we even have the supplies for that many. But I keep making [them] every day [with] the supplies that are provided," Sharp said. 

Since Sharp has been sewing her whole life, she was able to come up with a simple design that enables her to craft the masks quickly and effectively. 

"We did this to help our business open, but my pride is that I have a gift," Sharp said. "This is great for us to serve the community in some way. I’m glad I’m helping."

The series “Our neighbors: Living through a pandemic” is a collection of short vignettes highlighting the struggle and the hope of residents quarantined on the Central Coast. Through their stories it becomes clear that we really are facing the coronavirus together.

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