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Julia Riley wearing homemade mask while working

Making Things Better

Julia Riley, a cook at Tobey-Kendal Dining Hall, decided to put her time to good use and has been making masks for her coworkers – as well as for health care workers.

In only a year working as a cook at UNC, Julia Riley has already made a positive impact on her coworkers that she probably never anticipated when she started her job.

Riley, who is on administrative leave because a medical issue makes her at-risk during the coronavirus pandemic, decided to put her time to good use and has been making masks for her coworkers – as well as for health care workers. Working eight or nine hours each day she estimates she’s made a couple hundred masks, which her husband Neil (who is UNC’s catering manager in dining services) sends out or delivers for her.

“I’m sad that I can’t be with my coworkers during this time. That’s why I was happy to make them masks to support their work feeding our wonderful students,” she says.

She started out making masks and surgical hats for her daughter-in-law’s mother, who works at Denver’s Children’s Hospital as a surgical nurse. “I then got on a roll and wanted to help out other workers and families that were at the hospital during this tough time,” she says.

Top Image:  About 400 students (including 56 residence advisors) are staying on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dining Services prepares to-go meals for students to pick up at Holmes Dining Hall to take back to their rooms. Photo by Woody Myers.
Julia Riley sitting at her sewing machine
Julia Riley, a lifelong sewer, says she developed her patterns after talking to health care workers about their needs and preferences. Photo by Neil Riley.

Riley cleaning counter

Above: Employees wear masks for safety and work to keep surfaces clean. Photo by Woody Myers.

She’s since connected with a local group to make masks for local hospitals and senior care facilities. But she’s a bit nonplussed by the response she’s received about her work. “I have the skills and experience to make them, I have the supplies, and I have the time due to the graciousness of UNC allowing me to be on administrative leave. 

“There’s a need and I can help out, so, I just do it.  In all that’s going on in the world I just want to be part of making things better and make even a small difference. That's all.”

—Written by Debbie Moors

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