A local third grader and her mom have unleashed a creative venture that keeps face masks in reach while raising money to help animals.
Melissa Hayek and her 8-year old daughter Ella Hayek of Budd Lake have spent the last six weeks making hundreds of mask lanyards. They have sold 300 to family, friends and strangers since September and plan to continue until masks are no longer the norm.
As many have come to realize, it is easy to forget a face mask or misplace it while at school, at work or even at home. Removing the face mask and then placing it down on an unclean surface can only add to the spread of germs.
Mask lanyards provide a solution since it connects to the face mask and allows the users to hang the mask around their neck to catch a breath, share a smile, sip a drink or grab a bite to eat.
“You put the lanyard on the mask; it’s just hanging around your neck at lunch or at recess, you take it off; don’t need to put it down on a dirty surface,” explains Melissa Hayek, a paraprofessional in behavioral therapy who works with students in grades pre-K through kindergarten at Sandshore Elementary School in Budd Lake.
The Hayek’s got the idea to make mask lanyards from their friends in Maine.
Melissa Hayek’s childhood friend, Ashlee, has been making the beaded necklaces with her 10-year old daughter Molly. They live in Maine where Melissa Hayek grew up.
“We were buying the lanyards from her at first,” explains Melissa Hayek. Raised in the same town as the famous author Stephen King, Hayek describes the area as “desolate with farms everywhere. It’s out there hidden; it’s hard to make extra money out there.”
With her love for animals, Molly takes in foster animals such as cows, pigs and sheep. To help offset the costs to take care of these animals, Molly and Ashlee have allocated the proceeds from their mask lanyards to “feed those animals she was fostering,” explains Melissa Hayek.
Like Molly, Melissa’s daughter also shares that same passion for animals, so like COVID 19, the idea spread.
“My daughter is huge into animals,” says Melissa Hayek, mother of three kids. “That’s just her love.”
So at first they bought several lanyards from their friends in Maine to help support their foster animals, but then decided to expand in that effort and start making their own to help dogs, cats and horses.
Helping animals is not unusual for the Hayeks.
“We raised ducks and donated them to Alstede Farms,” says Melissa Hayek.
It was Ella Hayek who said “let’s give proceeds to animals in need,” says her mom.
“I love animals!” says Ella Hayek, who has four pets at home. “Animals need humans and humans need animals. We need to all help each other in this life. Animals speak to my soul.
“I have two dogs and two cats,” she describes. “Russell is my big dog; Lady is my small dog. Lotus and Lavender are my cats.”
The Hayeks got busy making mask lanyards less than a month ago.
“It’s a new thing,” explains Melissa Hayek, who has lived in Budd Lake for four years. “Been doing it for six weeks,” since September.
The orders have been steadily coming in, keeping the pair very busy.
“All the schools have been buying them,” says Melissa Hayek, who also works in the district’s afterschool program for Hand-Over-Hand Therapy for children with autism, and teaches yoga to kids with autism through the district’s Peak program.
“It’s been super successful,” she says. “I feel like a machine.”
“I love making things with my mom!” says Ella Hayek, a third grader at Chester M. Stephens Elementary School in Budd Lake.
Ella has a twin brother, Mason, “so sometimes her brother helps,” says Melissa Hayek, who has encouraged her kids to help others when they can.
“In second grade we did a lot of things to be kind to each other and people that live in our community,” says Ella Hayek. “We were not able to do our Kindness Tour because school closed right before we were supposed to help the community. Whenever anyone needs help, you should always help; it’s the right thing to do.”
Made for girls, boys, men and women, “anyone who wears a mask, this is for them,” says Melissa Hayek, adding that it is one size fits all.
The mask lanyards are 18 inches long from clasp to clasp and are made specifically for any type of face mask with bands that are placed ear to ear.
“We use a soft piece of wire,” explains Melissa Hayek, describing the material between fishing wire and an actual soft piece of metal.
The wire comes in a big roll. They then lace the wire through a multitude of different colored skinny round beads, using close to 200 beads per lanyard.
Melissa Hayek says they have been using “lots of Mt. Olive colors, holiday colors,” and they also take requests for colors such as blues, teals and purples which seem to be more popular.
They order their material mostly from Amazon since it is COVID, but also get some at Michaels. The beads come in bags, with 500 bags in one package, with one color per bag. She says they offer 20 different colors.
The Hayeks have spent $2,500 so far on materials and are selling the lanyards for $10 each. Actual cost per lanyard is $5; the remaining $5 is being donated to help animals.
The project is “100 percent non-profit,” she says. Any monies that do not go to help animals is being spent to purchase materials.
“She’s choosing at the end of October,” her recipients of the proceeds, Melissa Hayek says about her daughter’s decision. Proceeds most likely will go to a farm, or to adopt puppies at PetCo or perhaps to an agency that provides hound dogs that search for missing animals.
“She may choose a couple of different ones,” says Melissa Hayek. “She has big hopes and dreams when it comes to saving animals.”
So far they have sold at least 300 lanyards but expect to sell many more. Customers have been in Mt. Olive, through the schools and on her kids’ sports teams. Ella is involved in cross country; her twin, Mason and eldest son, Stephen, a 7th grade at Mt. Olive Middle School, are involved in football and wrestling.
Other customers live in nearby towns such as Hackettstown and Roxbury and are family members.
It takes about 15 minutes per lanyard to make, says Melissa Hayek, adding that she and her daughter have spent about 75 hours on this project so far, working on the lanyards on weekends and some mornings.
The Hayeks continue to take orders for their specialized mask lanyards.
To order, text Melissa Hayek at 862-251-9166, or message her through Facebook to the name Melissa Hope.
If they have the color, they can make the lanyard right away. For any custom-made orders, there could be up to a two-day wait period, she advises.
“We just made a lot to sell,” she says. “As we make them, they get sold.”
The number of lanyards they plan to make is limitless.
It all “depends on how long this world will be wearing masks,” says Melissa Hayek. “We are trying to make a different somewhere and make a difference in the community.
“It’s such a huge convenience,” she concludes about the mask lanyards. “People love them, so why not.”