Standing by while her local hospitals and community members experienced a scarcity of masks was not an option for one senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Eager to provide aid for her community, Gabriela Montes took the opportunity to open a Florida chapter of Ma(s)king a Difference, primarily based in Broward County.
Ma(s)king a Difference is a student-run organization with the purpose of continuously making masks and donating them to local areas in need, such as hospitals, homeless shelters and nursing homes.
Montes was asked to start a chapter by Nitya Nevisetti, the founder of Ma(s)king a Difference. Nevisetti noticed Montes’ involvement in Cards 4 Kindness, a worldwide organization that sends encouraging cards to those people in need, and decided to offer her a position with Ma(s)king a Difference. When Montes learned of everything the organization does for communities across the United States, she was more than willing to participate and join the cause.
“Once she started taking me through the resources we had available and the extent to which she had been able to impact her own community, I thought it would be a great idea, and it took off from there,” Montes said.
Nevisetti is very appreciative of all the hard work Montes has done in regards to Ma(s)king a Difference in Broward County, collecting thousands of masks in a matter of months.
“She’s been doing amazing things in Florida, and it truly warms my heart to see all her hard work paying off,” Nevisetti said.
Nevisetti oversees all of the chapters within the organization, schedules meetings, plans events and researches locations to donate to, along with several other tasks. It is very important to her that she creates a positive atmosphere with her team, ensuring that they are all comfortable and capable of working together.
“I try to maintain the idea of community within my team as we constantly communicate and solve issues together,” Nevisetti said.
Montes prioritizes finding volunteers and organizations to help collect masks to donate. She also runs a social media page with the help of graphic creators and seniors Navia Nair, Sydney Melvin and Sarah Mohammed. To help Montes effectively run the chapter, Ma(s)king a Difference has provided her with numerous resources such as volunteer forms and fundraising ideas.
A number of fundraisers have been arranged by the Florida chapter in order to raise money for the organization, putting it towards buying personal protective equipment for essential workers. Within the past few months, the fundraisers have been held at Pasquale and Son’s Pizza Company and Cecilie’s Italian Ices in Coral Springs.
Senior Preethika Praveen attended the fundraiser at Pasquale’s in order to support the cause, as well as Montes, her close friend.
“I wanted to do what I can to help out because I believe it important for us to come together and help out those who have been working tirelessly to help our community during these difficult times,” Praveen said.
Montes does not have a set goal for her service, but she just simply wants to help support the community in any way possible.
“I know so many people want to donate but feel held back because of safety reasons or simply not knowing how they would go about it,” Montes said. “Through Ma(s)king a Difference, I’m able to facilitate donations for so many people while also posting about it and giving them credit, so everyone is able to see who is pitching in and where those donations are going.”
The MSD Interact Club also contributed to Ma(s)king a Difference’s cause, donating 345 masks in a week. Montes reached out to the club’s president, Esperanca Woei, informing her of the organization and its goal.
“When [Montes] became the Broward founder for Ma(s)king a Difference, she personally informed and asked me about it,” Woei said. “Knowing that I was the Interact president for two years now, she thought it would be a benefit for both of our clubs and our local communities.”
The Interact Club participated in another project in September for Ma(s)king a Difference, raising 890 masks for people in need.
In the Florida chapter alone, a total of 5,105 masks have been given to local organizations with another 500 masks collected and prepared to be delivered. After being donated, they were handed out to the Coral Springs Police Department, pediatrician offices, dentists and the Broward Health Hospital in Coral Springs.
Montes is very proud of the work she has done so far through the organization. She is so grateful to have been given the chance to positively impact her community during a time of immense uncertainty.
“I feel pretty amazing because I didn’t realize how much impact this would have on the community,” Montes said. “Seeing how happy people are when we bring in the boxes of masks is absolutely incredible.”
Anyone is able to donate and any current students at MSD who do so are able to receive service hours in exchange for the masks given. If anybody would like to donate or help out in any way, the organization can be reached @MaskingaDifferenceFL on Instagram or by texting or calling (954)-391-3954.
This story was originally published in the October 2020 Eagle Eye print edition.