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Assignment: Masks for St Mary Magdalene Students

In early July, Columbus Division of Police Officer Scott LaBrake (19 Precinct, Hilltop) asked us to help obtain face masks for the children of St Mary Magdalene School, which is also in the Hilltop, and which has a large number of children who cannot afford their own masks. Officer LaBrake, who has volunteered at the school for seven years, was on the task force to help the school reopen safely and took on the job of finding masks for the kids. We were honored that he reached out to us and were ready to call on our Starfish volunteers to pitch in.

But first, Starfish volunteer, Jack Carlin, researched different types of masks and which one might be best for this project. Jack, who is a senior engineering student at Miami University, took to this task like he would a research project for school. He prepared a lovely document that assessed the pros and cons of three different types of masks, including how much fabric would be needed for each and the costs involved.

With the basic research completed, we wanted to involve our own St Mary Magdalene (SMM) alumnus in the project. Starfish Executive Vice-President and CPD Deputy Chief Tim Becker attended SMM from fourth through eighth grades. He was in the first class of Columbus Diocese teaching legend Julius Palazzo, who began in 1976 and is still teaching at SMM today! Chief Becker made many friends at SMM that he still has to this day; two of his classmates are on CPD’s In/Tac Team (which is very dear to our president’s heart).

Chief Becker reports that he was “a pain in the rear student” but by the end of his time there he was on the honor roll. He worked for the school maintaining the baseball fields—which he played well on, but did not do as well on the basketball court and football fields. He also worked as a substitute janitor while a student there and while in high school.

So, we knew Chief Becker would enjoy heading up this Assignment, what we didn’t know was that he knew some other people who would also want to be involved. His sister, Janette Ries, graduated from SMM in 1967 when her brother was six months old and later returned to teach there for 10 years herself. Both of her children also attended the school.

Mrs. Ries reached out to her friends, Mary Ann Graham and Karen Harrison, who were also eager to pitch in to help the little ones. Mrs. Ries cut patterns for 500 masks and Mrs. Graham sewed them. Yes…let us pause here for a moment in complete awe of this accomplishment. When we tried to express it to them in person, they dismissed it with a wave by saying they’re retired and it wasn’t a big deal (it IS!).

Mrs. Harrison was not to be outdone. She did research online and found a website that provides quality masks as a bargain rate of only 83 cents per mask. With two colors to choose from, white or black, they chose black for the kids, thinking it would hide a multitude of stains much better than white would. Mrs. Harrison then used part of her federal stimulus check to purchase 500 masks for the children of SMM to be able to attend classes safely.

But the ladies were not done yet. They also provided plastic containers for each classroom to store their extra masks in, as well as mesh bags for each class to launder their masks in (SMM has on-site laundry facilities and will be taking care of that for the kids). With that, 1,000 masks—procured with love at every step of the way—were ready for the start of the school year.

We got to meet Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Ries, as well as the new principal of SMM, Courtney Ryan, at the mask drop off this week. Ms. Ryan is starting as principal at a school where she knows she’s supported by a caring community with very involved people, including devoted police officers. As the students return to school part-time they’ll be proudly wearing masks created by a village.


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