LEWISTON — Apparently, it runs in the family.

Tonya Rubito, left, and her daughter Hope, sit Saturday morning on their front porch in Lewiston, wearing masks they made. They have been sewing masks for community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

While her daughter, Hope, has been making headlines over the past year for her anti-bullying efforts, Tonya Rubito has also been giving back to the community.

During the COVID-19 crisis, she has delivered dozens of homemade masks to Lewiston residents, and has been working with the city to make masks for staff members or other personnel who might need them.

Rubito calls herself a beginner sewer but she might have graduated a few levels since last month, when she began pumping out a large number of homemade masks with no help.

It began when she started making them for family members, but she quickly received feedback that she should try making more.

With a little encouragement, she made a few more and posted on Lewiston Rocks — the popular Lewiston community Facebook page — that she was offering free homemade masks for anyone in need. Within hours, she had to take the post down because she was overwhelmed with orders.

“I didn’t feel comfortable taking money for them because I know a lot of people need them and some can’t afford them,” she said last week. “And I like doing crafts so it didn’t bother me to give them out.”

For the more than 100 people that requested a mask, Rubito reached out to each person individually regarding size needs and offered options to either pick up or have the masks delivered. Many of the masks were for children. The majority of orders, coming from downtown residents, requested delivery.

So, Rubito and her daughter packaged up the masks and spent a Sunday in April delivering them all over town.

“We just kind of threw them all in a box and took a road trip around town,” she said. “I think they were happy to get them.”

Since then, she’s had people send photos of themselves wearing the masks, and thanking her for making them.

Rubito said she still has roughly 75 more at her desk, awaiting permanent homes. Some might end up with Lewiston city staff. She said she can usually whip them up in a few days.

For the Rubito’s, the past year has been a whirlwind. It began with Hope Rubito switching to homeschooling due to excessive bullying. Then, Hope turned her experiences into an anti-bullying initiative with the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council, where she serves as chairwoman.

Last month, Hope Rubito, 16, was named one of two Berman & Simmons Youth Leaders for her anti-bullying advocacy.

“I’m very proud of Hope,” she said. “Taking her negative experience, her story, and turning it around. It’s been a rough ride for the family, and to see her be heard and get her story out there and make a difference, all this didn’t happen to her for nothing.”

During the pandemic, the youth council has continued to try to spread positivity, through a series of videos and more recently, by Hope Rubito playing the violin for passersby in front of their home.

“We’ve been trying to do little things to brighten people’s spirits,” Tonya Rubito said.

If someone picks up an order of masks at their home, there’s posters awaiting them stating,”You are not alone,” and “We will get through this together.”

Dottie Perham-Whittier, Lewiston’s community relations manager, has worked with the Rubito’s in her role as advisor to the youth council.

“As such, I’ve gotten to know Tonya and have observed her tremendous love of community,” she said. ” I was impressed when I learned she was making masks for those who might need one, perfecting her new sewing skills as fast as she could pump them out. She is an upbeat, always-ready-to-help type of person, and I can see where Hope got her civic-minded attitude.”

Rubito, a former Lewiston Headstart employee, now home-schools both her children full time. She said she and her daughter plan to continue to help the community where they can.

“We’re both people that have a heart that wants to help others,” she said. “To be able to do that in our city, where we can, is humbling.”

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.


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