Students Support a Community in the Pandemic: Maroons Make Masks

This group of Roanoke College students is bringing their community together during the pandemic using a WordPress site to keep track of local generosity.

When Coronavirus forced universities to send students and faculty home, it took away the natural interconnection offered by campus life. However, at Roanoke College, a group of pre-medical students set out to make sure that didn’t happen.

Their solution was to start a group initiative to provide masks to those who need them in their community. Using a simple website to keep track of donated items, these “Maroons” have helped their peers remain connected throughout the Pandemic. As a result, their campaign has grown into more than just masks and spread even further into the local community.

To learn about this unique campaign, we interviewed Dr. Catherine Sarisky, Chemistry Department Chair and the Maroons Make Masks website creator.

Maroons Make Masks Morphs Into Something More

“We [Catherine and her husband, Tim Johann] were talking about how to get the students engaged and what to do, because we just sent them all home. This is sort of a weird disconnect for them.

We can say, ‘Oh yeah! We’re teaching online and remotely, or whatever.’ But, it’s not the same as being there in class together. So, we wanted to give them a chance to stay engaged with the college and a way to do something meaningful.

Our college’s catch-phrase is to ‘Live on Purpose,’ to do things that are meaningful and impactful. We want our students to grow and develop as whole people. That’s what we set out to do.

We started out with the idea that we would get students sewing for a local clinic that serves the working poor. We started with surgical caps and masks for that clinic. Then, we had people who wanted to log masks made for other places. So, we added another drive for that.

Now, one of our local homeless shelters has switched over to just housing people with COVID-19 diagnoses. So, there are a bunch of needs there. It’s going to turn into more than just Maroons Make Masks,- Now, we’re talking about ‘Maroons Serve with Purpose.’- but, in any case, we wanted to pull together a way for our students to help our local Roanoke College community and beyond.”

Two women standing in front of an outdoor medical center, one in nurses scrubs with a mask on.

When Catherine heard that her husband’s group of pre-medical students wanted to create a website for this initiative, she first thought, “Sure, no problem.” She’d built a few website pages in the past.

“I thought at the time it was going to be static and I’d put it on the college’s web page, which I could do. That would be fine. Then we’re in this Zoom call with the students and they’re listing all the things the website will do, and I’m like, ‘oh crud. No, this is a database backed website. This is not a static thing.’”

After understanding what the site needed to do more specifically, Catherine dug around for the best way to build it. That’s how she landed on WordPress.

Building a Website in a Few Days as a First-Time WordPress User

“It’s my first WordPress site. I have a couple Blogger sites. You can do a lot with javascript with Blogger… but at some point, you actually need a database behind it. So, I’ve been meaning to noodle around with WordPress at some point and went, ‘Well, I guess this is the week.’

It’s interesting. It’s certainly a whole lot more user-friendly than Blogger… You can put a template on Blogger and stuff, but if you want anything really advanced… it’s all javascript-based… There’s just not as much there.

For WordPress, you go ‘Wow, there’s umpteen-billion plugins!’ Then you just sort of click a button and something happens. I get why people have been doing WordPress… It certainly seems like there’s a lot of functionality there.”

Finding GiveWP Through the WordPress Plugin Library

When it came time to add the specific functionality Catherine needed to track item donations, she experimented with a few options before she landed on GiveWP.

“I was just searching the plugin libraries for stuff. I didn’t know what I was doing. I actually had tried Charitable and that was okay but I was having trouble figuring out how to get it to do what I wanted it to do. So, I saw GiveWP and said, ‘huh, that’s sort of close. I can kind of make that work, maybe not.’ Then, I found that I could do what I wanted with GiveWP without needing to do so much work out of the box. And I actually currently just have the free account.”

We were also pleased to find that the Maroons Make Masks fundraising website doesn’t accept any monetary donations at all. Instead, they simply want to help everyone feel more connected through acts of generosity and kindness.

The Maroons Make Masks donation forms asks for items instead of monetary donations.

Catherine was able to customize her GiveWP forms to keep track of items instead of dollars without any knowledge of PHP code. In short, using the GiveWP snippet library can get you a long way to the customization you’re looking for, even if the exact code isn’t there.

If you choose to experiment with the GiveWP snippet library, we advise that you use a staging or local site. That way, if you mess anything up, it isn’t showing to your site visitors. Catherine did a great job applying her knowledge of code to the existing snippets, but not all have as much luck.

Don’t know how to customize code? We have a resource that tells you how to add custom functions to your website. But, play cautiously with your code on live sites. Use a staging or local setup to make sure your live website doesn’t break.

How Are You Staying Connected to Your Community?

It’s incredible to see how creatively people are using online spaces to come together. Maroons Make Masks is just one of many unique websites using GiveWP that have caught our attention lately.

Join the growing community of more than 80,000 GiveWP users. Compare GiveWP pricing plans to see which features you need to bring your ideas to life.

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