Nimisha Dharia sews face masks in her home to protect people from COVID-19.

Sewing love for neighbors near and far during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Emily Esworthy
  • May 29, 2020

Nimisha Dharia needed something to do to keep busy.

When the novel coronavirus began making its way through the United States, she had to quit her job at Wal-Mart. She would miss the income, but she knew the busy retail store was not a safe place for her — a 59-year-old with a pre-existing health condition.

But Dharia was not content just to stay home and do nothing. Instead, like many of you, she got out her sewing machine.

Sewing masks for neighbors at home

Dharia and her husband are originally from a small village called Devgad Baria in Gujarat, India. They moved to the U.S. from the city of Hyderabad two years ago when their daughter Richa took a job at Google’s Boulder, Colo., office. The move was a big change and a long way from the rest of their family, but Dharia enjoyed sightseeing around her new home and meeting people at Wal-Mart.

Then the global pandemic struck, bringing with it a host of worries. Her loss of income was just a start. In addition to her own health, Dharia worries about her husband, who is diabetic. She also has two other children — one still living in India, and the other deployed with the military. Though she checks in with them as often as daily, it’s hard for a mother not to worry when her children are halfway around the world.

Still, her first instinct when social distancing began was to find a way to help others.

“She loves to get involved in the community,” Richa says about her mother.

When Dharia learned there was a mask shortage, she found her way to help, using the sewing skills she picked up as a young girl. So far, she’s given away 150 masks to her neighbors by offering them for free via Facebook. “I don’t want to take money,” she says. “I just want to do a service.”

With all that sewing, she even had to get her the rest of her household involved. Richa helps with the ironing, while Dharia’s husband handles packaging and emergency sewing machine repair. (Dharia is proud and amused that he learned how to fix it by watching YouTube videos.)

Sewing face masks for neighbors around the world

After a few weeks of sewing for her neighbors, Dharia scrolled past a Facebook ad for the Lutheran World Relief 75,000 Face Mask Challenge and was intrigued. She had seen firsthand the plight facing people living in extreme poverty. She had never heard of LWR, but the mission resonated with her, so she immediately made a pledge to make 25 masks toward the cause.

Though Dharia continues to worry about COVID-19 as well as her loss of income, she says making masks for neighbors near and far has made her feel “internally satisfied” during this time of uncertainty. So, since she probably won’t be able to go back to work for at least a few months — “or until a vaccine is ready,” she says — her sewing machine will continue to hum.

Case in point: “When I finish my 25 masks for LWR,” she asks, “is it okay to sign up for more?”

You can help!

COVID-19 is threatening communities in the developing world that already struggle to stay healthy and make ends meet. The masks you sew in your living room can provide love and protection for these neighbors in need halfway around the world. Sign up now for the LWR 75,000 Face Mask Challenge!

Don’t sew? You can love your neighbor with a gift to Lutheran World Relief, which will reach our most vulnerable neighbors with clean water to drink and wash their hands — a first defense against COVID-19. You can deliver emergency food packs to families living where market shelves are empty. And you can equip health workers with the protective gear they need to stay healthy and care for patients.


Until your love reaches every neighbor

Emily Esworthy, May 29, 2020 email