Some weeks ago, Union students living on campus opened their mailboxes to a surprise – a personal hand sewn mask accompanied by a letter from President Jones. The letter shared that the masks were made and donated by Union alumni in an effort to support students who had remained on campus. I was curious where these masks came from and reached out to Shana Kaplanov, who works in the Office of Development and works closely with Union alumni/ae, to learn more about how this effort came together.
“The Development Office was trying to come up with ways that Union could support students as the COVID-19 pandemic began to significantly impact student life on campus,” shared Shana. “The Rev. Posey Krakowsky ’12 is a Union alum and Episcopal priest with The Church of the Ascension here in NYC. She also is a quilt artist. When COVID-19 hit, she converted her quilting into a mask sewing ministry. She’d been posting pictures on social media of masks she was making for healthcare workers. So, I immediately thought of Posey when we began talking about finding masks for students. When I asked Posey if she had any extra masks she might be willing to send to Union students, she immediately volunteered to send the batch of the 25 she was working on at the time.”
The other alum who has donated masks was our very own Dr. Amy Meverden ’18, Visiting Associate Professor of New Testament and Director of the Writing Center. As the Office of Alumni/ae Relations reached out across the seminary to see if anyone knew people who were making masks and might be willing to donate to our students, Dr. Meverden sprang into action. She found a neighbor who began making masks for the community in exchange for donations to her favorite non-profit. Dr. Meverden ordered a bunch and brought them to the school. She also reached out to her mother, who began making masks, and mailed us eight additional masks this week!
Finally, Rita Walters, Vice President of Development, has a friend in Baltimore who is a Registered Nurse, and is also making masks. Her friend generously offered to make eight masks for us in exchange for toilet paper.
It has truly taken the work of several people to pull this off and Union is still working to secure masks for our entire on-campus community. To date, Union has been able to give a reusable, handmade mask to every student still living on campus, and the students living at St. Mary’s in Harlem. We also gave masks to all of the essential employees who are still coming into work on Union’s campus. The goal is to be able to find more people who will be willing to donate masks to this cause, so that we can send masks to our students living off-campus as well.
I was moved by the collective effort to ensure students’ wellbeing and safety, and decided to follow up with Rev. Posey Krakowsky via phone to learn more about her mask-making practice and what ministry has looked like for her at this moment.
To start, how are things at your church, and what is your background as an artist?
Rev. Posey Krakowsky:
“I’m one of three priests at the Church of the Ascension, and I’m lucky to have two colleagues, Liz Maxwell and Ed Chinery, who have been doing the lion’s share of keeping things going at the church like maintaining the food pantry. I’m also a fiber artist and I feel like it’s in the DNA of artists and craftspeople to respond to a crisis. I see the process of making these masks as a form of embodied prayer, so it’s where many like me go in response to a situation like this. The Bible passage I relate this to is the women who go to the tomb after the crucifixion with spices to embalm the body. This is just what you do. I had to fold up the quilt I was working on at the time and put it to the side, but I knew this was what I needed to be working on.”
MM: What has the mask making process been like for you?
PK: So far, I’ve made around 220 at this point. The first couple of weeks were spent waiting for materials to come in. My friends and I would joke about how elastic was quickly becoming the toilet paper of the crafting world! A lot of these masks have gone to Union, but the biggest shipment I sent was to a group called Rural and Migrant Ministry. The organization is connected to the Episcopal Church and works with leaders in rural and migrant communities throughout New York. I tried to get the masks to a physician here in the city, but they were unable to take them since they needed genuine PPE gear. I’m trying to get in touch with a hospital in Elmhurst and a funeral home in Queens, but I’m also concerned about the health of farmworkers across the country and am hoping to get some masks to them through Episcopal charities.
MM: As you reflect on this process, how did your time at Union prepare you for this moment?
PK: My time at Union helped me learn to look at who’s being left out and to ask why. Instead of taking things at face value, Union taught me to go against the grain and see who is being left out when decisions are being made by exploring the unspoken reasons in people’s rational. The masks have also been my embodied prayer in this moment – the rhythm of putting it together, sitting at the machine, listening to music or prayer, and sewing. The other thing I get back from the process is that people send you photos with their masks on, and I’ve recently been thinking of compiling a photo album of people wearing their masks. Even though their faces are covered and you can’t see their smiles, you know it’s there.”