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Kippahs to the Rescue

May 3, 2020 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

One Jewish family is turning kippahs into hundreds of face masks to help the homeless.

For the Jason family of Houston, giving is a way of life. “We’re used to helping people,” explained Matthew Jason, 15, in an exclusive interview in which he described his family’s unique project helping homeless and other underprivileged people during the Coronavirus pandemic.

For several years, ever since Matthew was eight, the Jasons have regularly volunteered with a local charity aiding Houston’s homeless. Parents Mark and Veronica would take their three sons, Matthew and his older brothers Jeremy, 19, and Danny, 23, to a distribution point each week where the family would help hand out meals to homeless people. The family formed a bond with many of the homeless and also developed a keen sense of reaching out and aiding others.

The Jasons are active in their local synagogue and through the years they’ve turned to their Jewish community for help in their work with the homeless. Jeremy marked his bar mitzvah by creating a campaign to donate socks for homeless people. Through his family’s synagogue, he eventually raised over 800 pairs to give away.

As part of Matthew’s bar mitzvah celebration, he brought birthday cake and food to donate to homeless people to help them celebrate their birthdays, as well. Matthew has continued the project for years. “I bring birthday cakes once a month to help celebrate homeless people’s special days.”

As concerns about Coronavirus spread last month, the Jasons worried about how it would impact the homeless people they were used to working with and other underprivileged Houstonians. The CDC recommends that all Americans wear masks while out in public to help slow the Coronavirus’ spread. This advice is difficult for homeless and other poor people who might not be able to afford necessities like food, let alone face masks and other protective items.

“We were sitting down for Shabbos dinner as a family,” Matthew recalls, “wearing our kippahs and we realized that kippahs are sort of the shape of a mask already.” As the Jasons enjoyed their Shabbat dinner, they discussed the possibility of turning kippahs into protective masks to give away.

Matthew and his brothers had many excess kippahs that they'd ordered for their own bar mitzvahs, as well as many kippahs from their friends’ bar mitzvahs through the years. “Everyone in our community seems to have a drawer or two of kippahs they no longer use” Matthew explains. He and his brothers gathered together all the kippahs they could find in the house; they turned up 70-80. The family experimented with ways to turn them into face masks, and came up with several different methods. Their favorite was to sew two 6-inch loops of elastic onto the seam on each edge of the kippah’s backing, forming loops that can go over wearers’ ears. The entire family worked, perfecting the plan, and created scores of masks.

The Jasons brought the kippah masks along with them the next time they volunteered to distribute food and supplies to the homeless, and the response they received was overwhelming. “People were amazed that we were doing this,” Matthew recalls. “They were really grateful – people realized that it took a long time to sew the masks, and they realized the masks could be very helpful.”

The Jason Family

The Jasons contacted their synagogue to ask if they could put a collection box near the building for community members to donate their extra kippahs as well. The Jewish community reacted enthusiastically: within weeks the Jasons received about 700 donations. Even though the Jasons are all very busy at the moment, either working or attending classes online, they’ve somehow found the time to sew hundreds of masks. Veronica, especially, has spent countless hours sewing, doing most of the work, fitting the time in between her work as a busy psychotherapist. They were originally worried that the project might be too big for them, but so far they have managed to make their project a reality.

To date, the Jasons have sewed about 340 masks, and have donated them to homeless people and also to local health clinics. Each week the family fields calls from people recommending local sites that are in need of masks. The Jason’s are working hard to keep up with demand. They’ve named their project “Kippahs to the Rescue”.

Matthew says he and his family are going to keep making face masks for as long as they can. “Realistically, we’d like to keep making them until this whole thing is over, until masks aren’t needed any more.”

Matthew, who is now 15, shares some wise advice. “People should just remember that anything can really help: any creative idea that you have that can help people will always be appreciated. In a time of need, at least try something,” he urges. “Anything you can do is great.”

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