High school mask maker wants to make a difference during pandemic

Daughter of Copper River Seafoods executive sews masks, raises funds to help hospital, seniors and hungry kids

Carolyn Kostka, a high school junior and daughter of Copper River Seafoods marketing manager Jim Kostka and his wife Teri, models one of the masks she will donate to Alaska Regional Hospital for use by their employees. Kostka said ironing the material before it is sewn helps reduce bacteria. The completed masks are also washed before delivery to the hospital. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

A 17-year-old Anchorage high school junior who wanted to help others during the novel coronavirus pandemic is busy sewing dozens of masks for Alaska Regional Hospital and raising money to benefit local seniors and the Children’s Lunchbox program.

In just a week Carolyn Kostka was near reaching her $2,500 goal on a Go Fund Me page to benefit the Anchorage Senior Activity Center and the Children’s LunchBox.

“Over the course of my life, medical professionals have helped me due to athletic injuries and most recently a bad car accident,” Kostka explained to potential donors on her “Adopt A Mask Make A Difference” page.

“With school closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was a little bored,” she wrote. “I found an old sewing machine in our garage and with a little help from YouTube, I learned how to operate the sewing machine and make medical masks.”

Then she contacted Julie Taylor, chief executive officer at Alaska Regional Hospital, offering to sew and donate the masks.

Kostka is putting in about 10 hours a day cutting and ironing the material for each mask before sewing them, complete with hair ties to wrap around the ears to fit the masks securely over the nose and mouth.

Kostka said that initially she felt helpless in her desire to do something to make a difference, but then, after finding the sewing machine and learning to use it “I was surprised how easy it was,” she said

She gets some help from her parents too. Her dad, Jim Kostka, marketing manager for Copper River Seafoods, likes to iron, and her mom, Teri, an accountant with Conoco Philips Alaska, helps cut out material for the masks, she said. 

Carolyn Kostka, daughter of Copper River Seafoods marketing manager Jim Kostka and his wife, Teri, irons material for masks she is making to donate to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage. She has already made several dozen masks in her effort to give back to her community in a time of great need. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

So far, she is averaging 30 masks a day, some of which are going out the door to individual donors, including her math tutor, Carrie Melville, a math teacher at Dimond High School in Anchorage. Melville stopped by recently to get one for her own mother, plus other members of her family.

She’s also shipping them out to other donors in the Lower 48. Whatever the amount of the donation, Kostka is keeping just 85 cents to cover the cost of materials, with the rest going to help seniors and feed children.

The mask making itself requires attention to detail, with the teenage sewer carefully positioning the cotton fabric to pleat in the right places before running it through the sewing machine. Once the edges are hemmed on three sides the fabric is ironed to get bacteria out and all masks once completed are run through the family’s clothes washing machine.

Kostka, now a junior at the PAIDIEA Cooperative School in Anchorage, will spend her senior year as a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, then decide where to complete her college education.

College applicants these days are judged not only for their SAT scores and high school grades, but what they’ve done to give back to their community, she said.

Kostka plans to tell colleges she applies to in her applications all about the mask project, in hope that will afford her an added edge for admission.