Maria Estrada, founder of Maria’s Hope & Prosperity and flower shop owner on Upper Matecumbe Key, holds a homemade mask and school supplies. Proceeds from masks and flower purchases go to support students in the Keys via supplies, from pencils to laptops. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

She’s known to many as the flower lady, and she hasn’t slowed down much since the pandemic hit. Going around to shops and restaurants selling beautiful bouquets, Maria Estrada is also selling a product everyone seems to need these days — masks. 

Hundreds of cloth facial coverings made by Estrada have been sold to locals and visitors since the pandemic hit the Keys. Estrada said she knew the virus wasn’t something that would end in a short time. That’s when she decided to add masks to her inventory of items for sale as she makes her stops at restaurants and shops in the Upper and Middle Keys. 

“I recommend they have two or three for hygienic reasons,” said Estrada, who runs Maria’s Hope & Prosperity and a flower shop on Upper Matecumbe. “If you have a long trip in the car, you can put the masks in your cooler. When you have to go outside or inside, you can put on the mask and be comfortable.”

Estrada said locals have been receptive to the masks in her travels to shops and restaurants. As for the others, not so much. 

“People who come from Miami, they don’t know me or what I do and they reject me,” she said. “All locals know the importance of wearing the mask.”

Estrada said her masks come in all sorts of designs. And more importantly, she said they’re comfortable and it’s easy to breathe while wearing them. 

Those who buy masks or flowers from Estrada are helping to pay for local students’ school supplies. Around $12,000 was raised last year from flower sales and donations. This year, Estrada is hoping to raise $14,000. Donations of any kind are appreciated, she said. Those wishing to buy flowers or masks can find Estrada as she makes her stops at local businesses throughout the day. Or, they can visit her shop at MM 79.8 next to Lazy Days where Estrada and her husband, Peter, make the bouquets. 

“We (the nonprofit) mainly provide the basic things the schools ask for,” Estrada said. “It’s usually things like pencils and paper and backpacks and laptops.”

Estrada also emphasizes a need for more skilled tradespeople in the community, from electricians to mechanics. Those who go to college face high student debt by their third and fourth years of school, she said. As for trade school, students could leave with less debt and a good paying job. 

“We have to tell the students that you have the capacity, you are smart and you can do it. … Go for it,” she said. “I strongly believe when children in this community and country have that kind of degree and skill, we are all winners,” she said.

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