Erie Arts & Culture is distributing 150 masks sewn by Ansumana Gbembo as part of the New Horizons initiative. The masks are being distributed free of charge to New American owned food markets located in the City of Erie. Staff of Erie Arts & Culture started delivering masks during the week of April 15. Th effort is timely because on April 16, Governor Wolf announced a statewide order that any business in operation during the pandemic must have both its employees and customers wearing masks. The order takes effect at 8:00 pm on Sunday, April 19.
Ansumana Gbembo is an Erie resident and former refugee. He learned the trade of tailoring while living in a refugee camp in the West African country of Guinea after fleeing his home country of Sierra Leone to escape civil war. He entered the United States as a refugee in 2009 to receive life-saving surgery. Since 2017, Ansumana has participated in Erie Arts & Culture’s folk and traditional arts program, which receives state funding through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA). Through this program, Ansumana serves as a master artist, teaching his craft to apprentices who are interested in keeping the cultural tradition alive.
During the week of April 6, Ansumana reached out to Kelly Armor, the Director of Folk and Traditional Arts at Erie Arts & Culture. Ansumana wanted to leverage his skills to serve the community during the COVID-19 crisis. Through the agency’s New Horizons initiative, Ansumana was commissioned to research patterns and recommended best practices for sewing cloth face masks. He then used this information to construct 150 double layered cloth masks for distribution.
Masks were made using a mix of traditional African patterns and contemporary fabrics. After Ansumana completed sewing, the masks were individually sealed in ziplock bags. Included within the bag was a small card indicating that the mask was hand-sewn by Ansumana.
“This project is a very big deal to me. It is not about the money, it is about helping people and for people to see my work,” said Ansumana. “Since I’ve come to the U.S., I've wanted to demonstrate that I know how to sew. Many people have helped me here in Erie so I also love to be able to give back.”
Kelly Armor, stated, “Ansumana has an incredibly important skill as we are all urged to wear masks in public. Our ethnic markets are important hubs of social support, now more than ever. I’m thrilled to see Ansumana’s work directly impact the health of our community.”
View our gallery below to see the differing mask designs, drop-off locations, and Ansumana in action.
Kelly has arranged for masks to be distributed free of charge at New American owned food markets located in the City of Erie. Markets where the masks will be available to employees and customers include:
Palm Tree Market (2702 Parade St)
Kamana Asian Food Market (1230 French St)
Europa Delicatessen (2404 Peach St)
UK Market (1105 Parade St)
Peace Market and African Store (1154 E 26th St)
Sham Market (760 E 12th St)
All in One Supermarket (3304 Pine Ave)
Funding for New Horizons is provided in part by the Erie Community Foundation.