CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - When the pandemic hit it was a group of African refugees who went to work, sewing their love into African fabric.
“As Africans, we usually wear these as clothing most of the time," said Florence Pilipili.
Traditionally, not as masks.
“I know of all the things to make, I wasn’t expecting masks,” said Becky Trout, owner of ButterPear.
Two years ago, Trout started her company and named it ButterPear, the popular avocado fruit she fell in love with while doing mission work in Liberia, West Africa.
Trout told 19 News she built ButterPear as a place for African artists to sell their items.
“It started as something we didn’t want to be a charity. We wanted it to provide dignity to the people that were making the items that were connected to the their culture," Trout said.
Trout watched businesses close and people struggle to find PPE because of the coronavirus.
She knew she had to do something.
“I contacted some of the sewers that we have in our sewing program and they’ve been putting out masks since this whole lockdown started," she said. “The different colors and textiles that it offers brings a different type of fashion style to a mask that we now are wearing to keep us safe."
The Pilipili sisters are part of Trout’s team.
The sisters immigrated from Democratic Republic of the Congo to work and go to school.
They’ve sewn more than 800 masks for ButterPear, while earning a living and making a contribution.
“I am an African and I am a refugee and it was something that I felt I was doing something that I was proud of," said Florence Pilipili.
“We all know that we are helping. it’s not just that we are trying to make money but we know that everybody needs the masks and we are helping them,” said Victoria Pilipili.
The masks have been a hit, here in Northeast Ohio, the United States and in Africa.
Trout told 19 News that for every mask sold, the company is able to pay it forward.
“With your mask purchases, we’re providing food, disinfectant and other masks back to their country and also here in Cleveland. We’ve given a lot to back to the refugee community here who are actually sewing the masks and helping them provide a living wage also," she said.
“I just didn’t think it would come out this way. It’s amazing because it’s coming out this way and it’s helping people to protect themselves through this mask," said Florence Pilipili.
Click here to buy a ButterPear mask.