Matthew Rouhani pulled out his grandmother’s sewing machine and set up shop at home. The family’s kitchen table became his service station, where he would make 54 face masks and 181 blessing cards for St. Vincent de Paul.

The 16-year-old never imagined learning to sew. But then, he also never imagined the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it would bring, including how people volunteer for SVdP. Social distancing limited in-person volunteering opportunities and sparked the creation of the nonprofit’s Help from Home initiative, where volunteers can complete service projects remotely. That’s what got Matthew started.

“Beyond being a convenient and safer option, I just thought it was a really good idea,” Matthew says.

Usually the Brophy College Preparatory junior would have come to serve dinner restaurant-style inside the Family Dining Room or helped a student with homework in the Dream Center. He’s been a regular volunteer with his family for years. Those opportunities helped him complete mandatory service hours for school, but also expanded his love of giving back to his community — something Matthew didn’t want to end because of the pandemic.

Lisa Rouhani helped her son, Matthew, get started sewing masks.

“It’s always important, but during COVID-19, lots of people are struggling while apart,” Matthew says. “It’s important to find these ways to come together as a community, so that we all feel welcome and surrounded by people who love and care for us during these times.”

Love and care are what Matthew put into his masks and blessing cards for SVdP.

He had all kinds of supplies and fabrics — from basketball to unicorn prints — delivered to his home. After watching a YouTube tutorial and taking some tips from his mother, Matthew became quite the master of the accordion-style mask with loops to go around the ears. He even taught himself the upgraded design with adjustable straps for sizing. Now, he can make a mask in 30 minutes or less.

And the blessing cards — filled with words of affirmation — have been a tremendous support for residents staying as isolated as possible inside SVdP’s transitional shelter. Each card offers them uplifting messages like, “Stay positive,” “Dream big” and “You are loved.”

“I wanted them to stay motivated and continue pursuing happiness,” Matthew says.

After completing a good batch of masks and cards, Matthew mails them to SVdP’s main campus for distribution to staff and guests. Volunteering from home has revealed to him a different perspective.

“Maybe I’m not right there in the moment to directly see the impact,” Matthew says, “but when I was making the masks, I felt like I was adding to something bigger. Even if I didn’t see the end result, I knew my effort would be added to all the others, and together we would offer people a lot of help and connection.”

To learn more about how to volunteer from home, visit:

This article originally appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Vincentian Connection.