Woman leads mask donation effort

Chad Frey
When students return to school in Newton USD 373 next month, mask usage will be required. One local woman has launched an effort to get masks, or money to purchase them, donated with the goal of providing a mask for any child in the school district who needs one in the school district.

When school resumes Sept. 3 in Newton USD 373, Sara Kelly's daughter will not be joining her classmates. Kelly, a single mother, will be moving to part time at her job to reduce the need for other people to watch her child and reduce uncertainty in her home.

But that has not stopped Kelly from launching a program called “Cover Our Kids” to try and help the families and children of Newton USD 373 — and she launched a program to start collecting masks for children attending school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic before she had made decisions about her own.

“My kid will not be in the district this year, which is ironic. I am doing this for the kids in the district. They matter. My daughter is not the only one that matters,” Kelly said. “I put in work for my daughter to show her she can achieve awesome things, to communicate to her the meaning of giving back and what it looks like.”

Also undecided when she started working was if there would be local mandates for the wearing of masks. The governor issued an executive order, which was initially rejected by the Harvey County Commission, in June. The Newton City Commission debated the issue, and had a resolution on its agenda suggesting that masks be worn when the county commission ultimately decided to pass one of its own.

“I started this two to three months ago before the executive order and the city or county mandates,” Kelly said. “I wanted to be sure that we were at least covering our kids where they were likely they were going to be mandated, and that would be in school.”

The requirements for mask usage in the Newton school district became final about a week ago, the same time the district announced plans to start school Sept. 3 and allow parents to select an online only or “flexible plan” model for their children.

And Kelly began to ramp up her project — partnering with Norm's Coffee Bar and Mojo's, on the Bethel College campus. The coffee shops will serve as collection points for donated masks.

“Whatever size, make and model, you can donate would be great,” Kelly said.

There is also an account established with the Central Kansas Community Foundation for financial donations the district can use to purchase masks as needed.

“It is open. As long as COVID is here, there will be a need. … This will be open for a while. I would say for at least the first semester,” Kelly said.

Kelly homes to get at least one mask for each student. There are more than 3,000 students in the district.

“It would be nice to get a surplus at each school in case the kids need one that day,” Kelly said.

But she will be satisfied with what she is able to collect and with bringing a little help to students in the community.

“I wanted to get involved in the community and not just have others do it for me,” Kelly said. “I want to walk the walk and talk the talk. I want to fill a need that I saw.”