NEWARK, N.J. – At a young age, you are taught that socks go on your feet. But your face? Yes, during a pandemic, socks can be repurposed to serve as masks, and that’s exactly what Transportation Security Administration officers at Newark Liberty International Airport did when they converted 100 pairs of brand new socks into 200 masks to provide to two local New Jersey homeless shelters.
As the passenger numbers continue to trend downward as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TSA officers at the airport’s international terminal found that they had some extra time between the screening of travelers to make masks.
On occasion, “I see homeless people and I got to thinking that none of them have access to masks during the pandemic,” said Lead TSA Officer Eliane Pascoal, a 14-year veteran of TSA who contributed to the purchase of the masks. “I had seen a video online about how to make masks from socks” and the idea was born.
The “how to” video was shared with colleagues and a handful of TSA officers volunteered to convert newly purchased socks into masks when they were not busy screening passengers or when they were on their breaks. TSA Manager Nicole Parisi also contributed to the purchase of the masks and the two bought dozens and dozens of packages of new socks and the project began.
When completed, each sock-mask was individually packaged in a zip-top plastic bag and a card inserted along with an instruction note.
“It was a game-changer in terms of our spirits at the checkpoint,” said Parisi, who estimated that she personally crafted more than 40 masks. “It gave us extra purpose” beyond our usual security duties
The team of officers practiced social distancing, making the masks in different areas in the security checkpoint, all while wearing their gloves and masks.
With the help of the Port Authority, two homeless shelters were identified--Family Promise-Union County and the Circle of Life Homeless Shelter, and each was presented with 100 masks for their clients.
“Our people have hearts and the fact that they identified a community that did not have access to masks and went about creating masks for this vulnerable population says a lot about the character of the TSA team here at Newark,” said Thomas Carter, TSA Federal Security Director for New Jersey.
Both shelters were quick to send thank-you notes. “The face masks you made have helped our staff and guests feel safer during this uncertain time” wrote Geleen G. Donovan, Executive Director of Family Promise-Union County in a thank you letter to TSA. “We will be sharing them with our current shelter guests, graduate guests, and program clients as well as with the food bank staff hosted at First Baptist Church, where we rent space. Food banks operate almost entirely with volunteer support, so when volunteers do not feel safe to come out to help with the food distribution, there will be no food banks. Your masks are helping people get the food and resources they need.”