While the COVID-19 health crisis has brought concern and suffering to many, some unexpected, heartwarming stories have also surfaced.
One of those stories took place within Immaculate Heart Academy sisterhood, as a student and alumna crossed paths who may not have otherwise.
Ana Cantarella’21 has paid special attention to staying safe and healthy during the pandemic, as her cystic fibrosis diagnosis makes her particularly susceptible. Wanting to find a way to help, Ana tapped into her talent and passion for fashion design and sewing. She joined the Bergen Mask Task Force (BMTF) and has been sewing hundreds of masks for medical professionals and essential workers.
“I know what it’s like not being able to breathe easily, so I’d like to help protect the doctors and nurses from harm,” she said to her mother, Julianne Collins Cantarella’86, when she began making the masks. “No one should experience that.”
The Bergen Mask Task Force consists of a team of volunteers, led by Demarest-based costume and fashion designer, Victoria Pero. The volunteers continue to put their sewing skills to good use by making thousands of cotton masks to be worn on their own or to cover the N95 surgical masks for local hospitals and care facilities in need. Ana knew Victoria from attending her fashion camp over the past few summers. Julianne said Ana felt very compelled to use her gift and give back, as she understands the doctors and nurses are going through great lengths to help others while putting their lives at risk.
“It’s so important for our medical professionals to stay safe, not only for themselves but for their loved ones,” Ana explained. “Because my brother, John Michael, and I have cystic fibrosis, trying to stay safe has definitely been on my mind. Making the masks is one way I knew I could help, especially for the doctors and nurses I know in my area who have cared for me in the past.”
It was Ana’s volunteer work making masks that resulted in the unanticipated connection to a fellow IHA sister, Caroline Rogers’13. When word spread among the IHA community that Ana was making masks, Mrs. Alice Rogers P’07, ’09, ’13, assistant principal of students, informed her daughter, Caroline, a clinician at a residential treatment center for children. Caroline and her colleagues were in desperate need of reusable masks. “I had mentioned my need for masks to my mom one night,” Caroline said. “After participating in a staff Zoom meeting, she mentioned she might be able to get me in contact with someone who was part of an organization making masks.”
Ana connected Caroline with the task force via Facebook and Caroline received a response within 24 hours of first reaching out. Thirty masks for her facility were ready to be picked up a day later. Drop-offs of donated sewing supplies and pick-ups of completed masks are all done on Victoria’s porch with no direct contact to abide by current regulations. Caroline said she was very appreciative to connect with a fellow Blue Eagle and the “amazing” Bergen Mask Task Force.
“I am so grateful for organizations like this so that my staff can have masks to wear each day,” Caroline said. “Although I have never met Ana, I am so grateful for her and the other volunteers who are making all of these masks for essential workers.”
As of mid-May, Ana has made more than 300 masks through the Bergen Mask Task Force and she plans to continue making them for as long as necessary.
College Preparatory High School for Young Women
500 Van Emburgh Ave | Township of Washington, NJ 07676
Immaculate Heart Academy was founded in 1960 as the first regional high school for girls in the Archdiocese of Newark. Its mission both at the time of foundation and today is to provide quality Catholic education to young women in an atmosphere characterized by respect for the individual, Christian community, and a high level of family involvement.
As IHA is a college preparatory high school for young women, a strong theme throughout the curriculum and extracurricular activities is the development of the special gifts that women can bring to society. The interests and needs of women in the areas of academics, spirituality, the arts, athletics, and social interaction drive the programs offered at IHA. As a single-sex school with a rich background of Christian beliefs and values, Immaculate Heart Academy meets the academic, social, and spiritual needs of today’s ambitious and high-achieving young women. Additionally, their emotional and psychological development is fostered by the positive, supportive, and affirming attitudes of the administration, faculty, and staff.
Known for its friendly family atmosphere as well as academic excellence, IHA has been named by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and is also a member of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS).