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Calgary Cares: Mask Makers YYC sews thousands of cloth masks for essential workers

Calgary Cares: Mask Makers YYC sewing free masks for essential workers

It started with a handful of people and a big idea.

“We’re trying to put a mask on every face that needs one,” said Fuyo Watanabe.

READ MORE: Face masks as extra barrier to prevent spread of COVID-19 could become more common in Alberta

So they started a Facebook group, Mask Makers YYC. Within the first day, 250 people joined.

Now, three weeks later, the group has more than 5,000 members.

“It’s really quite crazy,” laughed Patricia Floc’h-Anderson, another one of the founding members. “It’s consumed most of our waking hours.”

“It’s kind of incredible we’ve come as far as we have completely volunteer powered,” said Watanabe. “It is not only the blood, sweat and tears of ladies and few gentlemen — they’re not only sewing, they’re using their own materials, they’re raiding their own supplies.”

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The group is an efficient assembly line of volunteers that have sewn and delivered thousands of masks to essential workers.

Here’s how it works:

New fabric donations are dropped off at Fishman’s Personal Care Cleaners. The fabric is then cleaned and taken to at Designer’s Choice Resource Centre, a professional seamstresses manufacturing store, where the it’s cut down into mask-sized pieces (they have fancy equipment to cut through dozens of layers of fabric all at once).

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Those pieces are then put into packages of 10 and delivered to the sewers who create the masks.

Other volunteers solely turn their efforts to cutting new cotton t-shirts into strips to create the strings for each mask, while others spend their time bending nose wire so the masks fit snugly over peoples’ face.

“We really tried to make a mask that would last and that would fit, that is a standard size,” Watanabe said.

READ MORE: Calgary volunteers sew masks for medical community amid COVID-19 pandemic

The group has outfitted care home staff and postal workers and even answered a call from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency for masks to transit and sanitation workers — although, at first they didn’t believe it was really from chief Tom Sampson.

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“We got this request from… chief Sampson, to join the Facebook group… but his profile had been just created,” Floc’h-Anderson said. “So we sent it around the group [administrators] to say: ‘Is this who we think it is? Or is this just an impostor?'”

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As it turns out, Sampson had just made his Facebook profile and after some confirmation that it was really him, the group was more than happy to approve his request.

While Mask Makers YYC has delivered thousands of masks already, there are orders in for more that 7,500 more.

“This is really just getting going. It’s snowballed and it’s getting bigger now that donations coming in and the more the merrier,”  Designer’s Choice Resource Centre owner Chris Parkin said.

“The more help we can get, especially from seamstresses at home, the more masks we can get out to front-line workers.”

The group is looking for more volunteers to help in any role, but the biggest need is for more sewers.

They’ve also partnered with charity Dress For Success to collect donations that are used to buy new fabric — simply go on the charity’s website and write “masks” as the subject line when you donate and the money will go directly to the group.

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YYC Mask Makers is also taking new fabric, 100% cotton donations at Fishman’s locations in Marda Loop and 17 Avenue.

“Everyone is bringing their superpower to the table and working together and the response has been amazing,” Fishman’s owner Tasha Fishman said. “I think people feel helpless a little bit sitting at home wondering what they can do and this is a way they can contribute and give back.”

“It’ll be definitely a moment in history to look back on and to definitely be proud of what everyone has come together to accomplish,” Floc’h-Anderson said.