Minnesota Somali refugee fashioning protective masks amid new CDC order

After the CDC issued new guidance that people should wear masks in public, a Minnesota woman decided to thank the community that embraced her as a refugee 27 years ago.

The CDC has recommended all Americans wear some type of mask while out in public, so several women in Minnesota’s Somali community are stepping up to find materials and make them.

One University of Minnesota student knew exactly who to ask when her pharmacy professor put out the call for volunteers to make masks. The student’s mother is a professional seamstress and she got to work right away.

Hawa Elmi is trying to help protect her fellow neighbors from COVID-19 by making the masks, of which she has already fashioned about 30. Many local stores have run out of supplies, however.

“When I asked her to make the masks, I said, Mom, they have a protocol and they have instructions on how to do this and she was like, no, I don’t need it and I kid you not, it was exactly how they wanted it and even better,” said Elmi’s daughter.  

Elmi’s daughter is studying to become a pharmacist at the U of M. Her professor put out a plea for anyone who knows how to sew and start making masks. The masks will be given out to some Allina Health and M Health Fairview locations.

“America. This is my country. This is everything for us. So if we help, it makes a difference,” said Elmi.

Elmi came to this country as a refugee from Somalia in 1993. She says Minnesota has welcomed her and her family with open arms and given them everything they need. She says it is one small way she can give back to her community and hopefully help prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

“You’re Somali, you’re American, you’re black, you’re white, it doesn’t discriminate against anybody,” she said.

As soon as Elmi and her daughter can find more materials like the elastic bands, she will get to work again and start making as many masks as she can.