Local student Jon Siemon and his mother help the community with homemade masks.
Jon Siemon, a rising senior at Topsail High School, has an uncle employed in New York City, in midtown Manhattan, where daily COVID-19 updates are anxiously anticipated and essential. At Siemon’s home in Surf City the virus’ assault is comparatively calm, but those television images from 590 miles away were unsettling.
“A couple of weeks ago, when we saw on the news how bad it was, we instantly knew we had to do something,” Siemon says. “My uncle is right in the middle of the pandemic. We knew we had to help my uncle out. If you can do something, why not do it?”
What started as an act of kindness for one person snowballed into something greater. Siemon bought colorful material at Walmart and flannel for the under layers and made protective masks. He mailed them to help keep his uncle safe. Then he made masks for family members in Texas. Then for a few friends and neighbors. Then his outreach extended to the Surf City police and fire departments, a few fast food restaurants and Topsail school employees still on the job in Hampstead.
By late April, he had distributed about 300 masks. Pictures surfaced on the Internet, and Siemon, unintentionally, became the face of good news.
“They were very grateful and that was really awesome to see,” he says. “I didn’t know it would make much of an impact — it was just a nice thing to help someone out,” he says. “We’ve made about 300, and we’re still going.”
The we is Siemon and his mom, Stacey. It’s her sewing machine.
“In the beginning, I tried to do the sewing, but I’m definitely not in that world,” Siemon says. “We watched a YouTube video (about how to make the masks) and we were very new to this, but my mom sews.”
Siemon wanted his masks to look good. “No one was going to wear them unless they looked cool,” he says. “You have to make it look interesting. A mask is so in right now, it steals the show.”
A typical mask, Siemon says, will use about two layers of flannel behind the cotton outer layer, but for first responders he uses four or five flannel layers.
“We use a 6 by 9-inch piece of flannel and a 6 by 9-inch piece of cotton and sew them together,” he explains. “I cut the pattern out and lay them out, then she (Stacey) would sew them together. The hardest part is the straps.”
The best part, he says, is seeing his community cope with the ongoing quarantine together, even while separated.
“I just really love how much people in the community are celebrating each other,” he says. “It shows how we’re still connected even though it feels like we’re apart. It’s like watching time melt. People are still socializing and being able to communicate with each other, especially the first responders. Thank you, to them, for being out there and protecting our community.”
Siemon is a member of the Kiwanis Club, is on his school’s student council, competes in Science Olympiad and is a member of the community service-oriented Key Club. His goal is to pursue a career in computer engineering or computer science, but he also enjoys writing. He has a few colleges in mind.
“It’s crazy, because I have a wide range of hobbies and I like to do things that challenge me in more than one way,” he says. “I like computers, but I also love to read and I’d like to be a writer.”
For the time being, though, with schools closed and social distancing the new normal, there’s fabric to cut and people to help.
“I think it’s really just about there being so much uncertainty and confusion,” he says. “I could just stare at a wall and watch YouTube for 12 hours and do absolutely nothing, or I could cut some straps and iron some fabric and put something together to make some people happy. So why not?”