April 16, 2020 | Matt Kucinski

A sewing needle logo next to a photo of a student with a face cloth covering their mouth and nose.

On a cold and dreary day in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan, Freshta Tori Jan left her dorm room behind and headed to her home in Rockford, Michigan.

Tori Jan, a second-year student studying political science and pre-law at Calvin University, was doing what many students across the country were doing at that time, transitioning from residential to online education for the remainder of the semester.

Upon returning home on this cold afternoon, she decided to sip on some tea and turn on the news, and … “I hear that the homeless have been hit the hardest by COVID-19,” said Tori Jan. “That touched my heart and I couldn’t imagine what they could be going through.”

Homeless shelters were closing because of the fear of the virus spreading, meaning access to showers, food, lodging, all were now in jeopardy for an already marginalized population.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Tori Jan.

But that didn’t stop her from thinking.

From uncertainty to action

Tori Jan saw a big pile of clothes on her floor that she intended to take to Goodwill. But, the stores were closed. And good thing they were, because that pile of clothes had a bigger purpose.

“I remember growing up back home, all girls were required to learn how to sew,” said Tori Jan who grew up in Afghanistan. “Why not use my basic skills to help make masks for the homeless?,” she wondered.

That thought turned to action.

“I remember this one day we were taking the masks downtown and people driving by saw us and asked: are you selling these masks? We said ‘no, they are free, they are for the homeless,’” recalled Tori Jan.

But people insisted they wanted to pay for them, and Tori Jan said the requests to make masks just kept coming in. So much so, that on April 8, 2020, she decided to open an online store.

“I can make these masks and customers can either purchase for themselves, for their family or friends, or they can make purchases for the homeless and I can deliver them downtown,” said Tori Jan.

A passion shaped through suffering

Growing up in Afghanistan, Tori Jan’s family faced injustices daily. Her parents were tortured, some of her close friends were killed. She faced religious persecution, and in eighth grade, the Taliban shut down her school.

“I was so broken, I felt this was so unfair, this couldn’t be the end of my dreams, this couldn’t be the end of me trying to make a change in my country, around the globe, in any way that I can.”

And it hasn’t. These events shaped her.

Before her senior year of high school, Tori Jan moved to west Michigan with a passion to work and serve toward her mission “which is fighting inequality in any system in any way that I am able to,” said Tori Jan.

Living out her mission wholeheartedly

She applied to and was accepted to a number of colleges and universities. “I kept praying for God to show me what school was right,” said Tori Jan. “I can’t explain how many different signs there were that Calvin was the right school.”

Her experience so far at Calvin has confirmed that calling, equipping her and supporting her as she lives into her mission.

“When I started at Calvin, I got so much support, I was able to get involved in a lot of organizations, I was able to go to a number of conferences and really able to work and serve toward my mission.

“I got a lot of help from my professors who were always encouraging me, always writing my references … just working at Calvin’s Career Center, I felt like I was surrounded by family that would constantly pray over me, that would anoint me. Every time I’d go speak at a conference, everyone there would pray over me. Calvin has a very special place in my heart, and I can’t imagine how else it would have been if I hadn’t been here,” said Tori Jan.

Tori Jan says the proceeds from the masks sold on her online store will help fund supplies to make masks and will also go towards feeding the homeless. To learn more about Tori Jan’s story and mission, visit sewtrueproducts.com.

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