A flash of inspiration in an Amherstburg grocery store parking lot sparked the formation of a volunteer, grassroots sewing movement that has created more than 1,000 masks and counting for frontline workers battling COVID-19.
More than 20 volunteer sewers, supported by donors, cutters, pinners and couriers, have been busy in their homes making masks that are being distributed to immunocompromised individuals and workers in seniors’ homes and retail outlets in Town and across the region.
Individual orders are also rolling into the Masks4AllAmherstburg Facebook page, which had 878 members Tuesday afternoon.
“These ladies are giving it all they’ve got. They are doing amazing work and they are doing it from the heart. No one is getting paid,” said Krystle Bernauer. “They are working for free and they are working at the highest level you could ask for. No one sets an alarm clock. They just get up and start working.”
Bernauer started the Facebook page in late March to share information about the effectiveness of homemade masks. The idea struck her in a store parking lot as she wondered what Town residents could do to protect frontline workers. She believed homemade masks could slow the spread of COVID-19 and, last week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer endorsed them as a tool in the fight against the coronavirus.
The Windsor Essex Sewing Force Facebook group saw Bernauer’s Facebook posts and asked for help making masks because they couldn’t keep up with demand. They provided Bernauer with an initial batch of fabric and sewing supplies. She began slowly, on a sewing machine she borrowed from her mother, and was very quickly overwhelmed with offers of support from generous Amherstburg residents.
“Everyone just stepped up at the same time to help make this work,” said Bernauer. “This isn’t possible without them. They are the ones who are making this happen.”
Vanessa Strickland and Cheryl MacLellan volunteered to manage the hundreds of messages, questions and mask orders pouring into the rapidly growing Facebook page and to help organize donations, distribution and deliveries.
Others came forward with supplies of fabric and thread along with offers to cut cloth or stitch the masks together.
There are a lot of moving parts to a multi-pronged, grassroots operation like this, plus complications related to self-isolation and physical distancing, so Lynn Fox Sinasac offered up her store, The Village Shoppe on Sandwich Street, as a central depot.
Supplies are dropped off at The Village Shoppe and delivered to the mask-makers, and finished masks are brought back and prepped for delivery by volunteer couriers. Everything is catalogued and disinfected and delivered to the people who need it most.
“This is Amherstburg,” said Fox Sinasac. “Everybody pitching in, everybody helping each other out.”
More than 1,000 masks have already been distributed to workers at places like Richmond Terrace, LCBO outlets, Harrowood and Christian Horizons. The group is also working to make masks for children and for retail workers at stores like Walmart, No Frills and Sobeys.
“These people are so grateful for everything we are doing and I want these ladies to know this,” said Bernauer. “They are making a difference.”
Care instructions included with every mask explain how it can best be used and make clear that it is not a bona fide medical mask. Officials were initially reluctant to promote the general use of non-medical masks but changed course last week based on “emerging information” from the medical community.
"A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces," said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. "The science is not certain but we need to do everything that we can and it seems a sensible thing to do."
The Masks4All Group is running full-throttle to make as many masks as possible and is always looking for more volunteer sewers and donations. Cotton fabric is always needed as is thread but there is an acute need for elastics or shoelaces or anything that can be used for tiebacks on the masks.
If you can volunteer your time or otherwise support this grassroots effort, you can visit the group’s Facebook page or send an email to email@example.com.
Below are the names of some of the volunteers who have stepped up in support of the Masks4All campaign:
Jillian & Margie Brohm
Delivering supplies etc.
Covid-Couriers -Mike Johnston