York Region group hand sews masks to help the fight against COVID-19

Volunteers supply frontline workers with more than 50,000 hand-sewn protective masks

Enid Reyes-Martin sewing a reusable mask in her home.
Enid Reyes-Martin sews a reusable face mask in her York Region home. COURTESY ENID REYES-MARTIN

Enid Reyes-Martin had been sewing for many years, after learning from her mother as a teenager and sewing clothes for her own daughter. 

So when she saw a callout on Facebook for volunteers to sew face masks for frontline workers, it all made sense. Already an active member of her community, it gave Reyes-Martin  a way to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I took my machine out of the basement and just started going at it,” she said in an interview.

Reyes-Martin is one of hundreds of volunteers working with WE Care York Region in response to the shortage of masks for frontline workers that emerged at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group originally started on Facebook and was operated by two York Region residents, Shanta Sundarason and Gabriela Conceicao.

Watch: WE Care volunteers in action

Video by; Sian Brunton

[WE Care] isn’t something that I just started out of a whim. It’s something that I’ve done for many years,” said Sundarason, who now runs the group. “I’m always looking for different ways to help the community and the world at large based on what the needs are at that time.”

WE Care sews thousands of masks

In the last 10 months, more than 300 volunteers have sewn over 50,000 pieces of personal protective equipment — scrub caps, headbands, masks and more — for frontline workers, shelters, seniors and Indigenous communities.

Businesses and facilities in need fill out a request form for orders of multiple hand-sewn masks, scrub caps, headbands, and scrub bags on the group’s website. Sundarson then organizes and distributes different roles to volunteers. They’re split into three different groups: drivers, sewers, and donors who provide materials. 

“[Shanta] will come back to the group and say, ‘Hey, guys, we need 50 head caps for a hospital. How quickly can we get them?’ and then we will just get to it,” Reyes-Martin said. 

These finished masks sewn by WE Care volunteers are ready to be sent out to those in need. PHOTO COURTESY OF ENID REYES-MARTIN

The sewers drop the finished orders on Sundnarson’s porch and she prepares them to be picked up and delivered.

I sort through them just to make sure that they’re all quality tracked. I then sanitize them, they have to be left out, kept sterile, and not touched for seven days,” she said. 

Anyone can volunteer

Not all volunteers have to be skilled sewers. Peggy Cheng dragged out her sewing machine to help after it had been sitting untouched for 20 years.

“I learned a bit from the school and that’s it,” she said. 

As the PPE shortage eased last fall, the group turned its attention to other causes affecting the community.

[Around] September, there was not as much need for masks. So some of us kind of switched gears,” Reyes-Martin said. “The objective of the group is not just to focus on one particular project, but to help the community in whatever way we can.”

The Fill a Purse for a Sister campaign is another example of one of how the We Care York Region group works to lend support to those in the community. The Newmarket-based campaign involves donating used purses with female essentials inside to shelters across the Greater Toronto Area. 

People can volunteer to be a part of WE care York Region by visiting the group’s Facebook page.

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Posted: Apr 11 2021 5:27 pm
Filed under: Community COVID-19 News