Emily Rumph (left) and Sophie Lopez are busy making and delivering goods to community members in need during COVID downtime. 

Schools across the U.S. have lain empty for the past four months, with classes either sequestered online or stopped altogether and extracurricular activities abandoned due to their online incompatibility. With their schedules now thrown wide open, five high school friends decided to use their extra free time to give back to a community in need.

Kyra Singh, Makenna Ley, Emily Rumph, Alex Caulin-Cardo and Sophia Lopez founded their own organization whose mission would be Serving The Impacted Tucson Communities through Help, Encouragement, and Support – STITCHES for short.

When COVID-19 descended onto Tucson mid-March, these five students brainstormed how to help.

“All of us have parents that are going to work, and three of us have parents who are in the medical field,” said Singh, a senior at BASIS Tucson North. “We would always hear from our parents, coming home, they would talk to us about the shortage of masks and equipment.”

So, they went to work to combat that shortage. What started as a small mask-making operation grew into a wide coalition of about 65 volunteers across the city providing grocery delivery services, tutoring and sewing more than 700 masks (thus far) for the Tucson community.

The group expanded beyond masks as they saw a growing need for other services.

“When I started hearing that the elderly, they felt scared to go to grocery stores, they couldn’t get the stuff they needed, I felt so helpless and I wanted to do something to help,” said Rumph, a senior at University High School.

Caulin-Cardo, a junior at BASIS Tucson North, echoed the sentiment. He said his grandma, who lives in Spain and has been self-isolating, told him about a group of young people who picked up her groceries for her.

“We were like, ‘There’s probably hundreds of grandmas in the U.S. or just in Tucson that need groceries,’” Caulin-Cardo said.

As for beginning their tutoring service, Lopez, a senior at University High School, said, “We all thought that tutoring would be a big part of this as well. … Since we’re all so lucky and fortunate to go to the schools that we do and have access to the technology that we do, we thought it would be great for us to be able to give back in any way that we could, especially in the education aspect.”

Before the school year officially ended, STITCHES helped students through their coursework, and over the summer, they are continuing to help others with their studies.

The group is also in the process of making kits for homeless populations in Tucson as their next service project.

“Especially with cases that are rising right now, it’s really important that everybody has a mask on,” Singh said. “So we’re trying to make kits with just some small essentials – a mask, hand sanitizer if we can find it, some snacks, some deodorant, stuff like that – and we’re going to try to distribute those.”

Even with the extra time the students have with summer break and extracurriculars canceled, they still say time management is a struggle, but a worthy one.

“You have to be able to delegate times during the weekends,” Singh said, saying the time she would have spent going out had there not been a pandemic is now replaced with the work she does for STITCHES.

 “We realized that we have to use our free time – now that we have some – to do stuff that really impacts our community in a positive way,” Ley said.

Although each founding member had their own reason for participating in this work, all five said they wanted to use their position as one of the least at-risk populations for complications due to COVID-19 to help those in need.

“It means so much that I can do this little part to help the community in this time that’s really hard for all of us,” Rumph said.

In STITCHES, the “E” stands for “encouragement,” and the five members words of encouragement were, in the words of Singh, “we can do this!”

They also encouraged people to wear masks when they are in public for their own and others’ safety.

“Wear a mask,” Ley said, “and if you don’t have a mask, contact us, we can help.”

To get a mask or sign up for any other STITCHES services, visit their website.

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