Now that health officials have done an about face on covering our faces outside during the novel coronavirus pandemic, a local woman is using her sewing skills to make masks as a gift to her community. 

When Malibu resident Susie Sunwoo, who owns Point Dume Cleaners, saw business plummet since stay-at-home orders were issued three weeks ago, she decided to get creative and start sewing masks. The masks aren’t medical grade, but with health experts now advising to wear face coverings in an effort to prevent asymptomatic carriers from spreading the virus, Sunwoo’s masks are sure coming in handy. She’s sewn more than 300 so far (as of last weekend) on her own time and own dime. 

The masks are made from 100 percent cotton in as thick a weave as Sunwoo can get her hands on, which experts say is among the best materials for homemade masks. Government officials have begged the public to not buy N95 masks urgently needed for front line medical workers. There are theories that basic cotton face coverings may not only help prevent spread but might also act as a partial barrier for the virus to attack the wearer—although they should be used as a replacement for social distancing (staying at least six feet away from anyone not in your immediate household). 

Sunwoo ordered more material since her supplies are now running low. And because it’s been a bleak time for so many, the Malibu resident of two decades is trying to order fun prints with unicorns, rainbows and so on. Recipients so far have included the homeless and even the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station—grateful enough to make a post on social media. 

While speaking to The Malibu Times over the phone, Sunwoo was interrupted several times as customers came in to pick up masks. The 72-year-old said she’s more than happy to help. 

“It’s my pleasure. I love to do something good—to provide what people need,” she said. She was reluctant to talk, saying she wasn’t looking for plaudits. Her daughter, Stephanie Sunwoo, agreed. When she told her mother about the drive for homemade masks, she said her mother didn’t hesitate for a second and got working on them. 

“It makes her happy,” Stephanie said. “She loves her customers and her community. This is the way she can show her love. This is not just her place of business—these are her friends, neighbors and customers. Because she has the time, now, she’s grateful to be of service.”

Sunwoo is not charging for the masks and when recipients are insistent, her request is to give money to help homeless people.

Across town, another Malibu cleaners is revving up to begin mask donations, as well. Inspired by demand for higher-quality homemade masks, Suzy Kim, owner of Ogden Cleaners at Malibu Colony Plaza, said she would be getting to work creating masks to distribute for free to her customers, adding Ogden would happily accept donated materials.

Both establishments are considered essential businesses at this time and are using no-contact pick-up and delivery services and well as implementing social distancing. Business hours are being cut back, however. 

Malibu’s other dry cleaner, Colony Cleaners, did not return calls as of Tuesday.

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