Flash from the past
This photo appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of The Chesterville Record, when Canada Sews’ Ontario East received the 2020 Health is a Community Affair Award from the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre “in recognition of the donation of cloth masks to front-line workers and vulnerable populations during the COVID 19 pandemic.” The award was accepted by Cheryl Guy on Sept. 8, 2020 on behalf of all those who have volunteered their time and effort in the organization. From the left Monique Clèment, Anita Comfort, Cheryl Guy and Joan Davis. Thompson Goddard Photo

CHESTERVILLE – When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, it soon became apparent that essential and frontline workers needed items such as fabric masks, headbands, scrub caps and wet bags to supplement the personal protective equipment they were issued. 

On March 20, 2020, Joan Davis, Anita Comfort, Monique Clement and Cheryl Guy organized first the Sewing for Lives Ontario Facebook group and eventually joined Canada Sews, organized by Lee-Anne Moore-Thibert, as Canada Sews Ontario East (CSOE). 

Jennifer Normandin, spokesperson for CSOE, recently commented how these four women “led and inspired a dedicated team of volunteers in Eastern Ontario through a year of making, processing and delivering” over 109,000 virus supplies; including masks, headbands, wet bags, and scrub caps to front line and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic “within our region, across Canada, and even abroad.” 

According to Normandin, CSOE was the “largest group of volunteers in one region” apart from the national group; it was responsible for one-third “of all items produced across the country,” and through the winter of 2020-2021 also donated “just over 380 items including hats, mitts, scarves and coats.”

She explained Moore-Thibert created Durham Region Sews on March 22, 2020, “to make masks for frontline workers” and, within a day, had “over 300 members and over 800 requested items.”  Subsequently, that group became known as Ontario Sews, with new chapters created “as requests continued to increase.” As numerous requests from other provinces were received, Canada Sews developed. 

Normandin went on to explain that “to date, a combined total of over 330,000 items were made, processed and delivered by all Canada Sews’ regions,” which included nine provinces, with “over 35 regional Facebook groups.” She mentioned how the CSOE and other groups “also coordinated the making of gowns, ear savers and face shields in addition to masks, scrub caps, headbands and wet bags.” Eventually the “list of eligible recipients” was expanded from frontline and essential service workers “to include vulnerable persons and school children.”

She continued to share that volunteers not only sewed articles, but also inspected, washed, sorted, and delivered items, with CSOE even being “blessed with a gentleman who serviced and repaired volunteers’ sewing machines, free of charge.” Monetary donations used “to pay for supplies and shipping” were received from people expressing their gratitude for receiving the items or from those who were unable to sew, and donations of material and notions were received and distributed to the sewers.

Recently, the Canada Sews’ request system was decommissioned, with Normandin explaining “we have begun the process of transitioning into a general sewing club.” Members will be “invited to share projects/patterns/tips/tricks” and continue to be connected to those with similar interests. She continued how “a handful of these groups will remain active, including CSOE” which will continue to facilitate “the delivery of masks, etc. on an as needed basis.”

For those who participated in a Canada Sews’ group, there was a sense of camaraderie that developed as the sewers worked together toward a common goal. As Normandin mentioned in a Facebook post late last year, members shared ideas, supported each other, and “celebrated contributions both big and small.” She commented how “for some, this group was simply a way to help in a time of need; for others, it has been a lifeline. Whatever your reason for joining, we are grateful for each and every one of you.” In an email to The Chesterville Record, there were many messages of thanks to the organizers from those who had received items from CSOE. 

For over a year, thousands of sewers worked together, though apart, to assist those who needed the items produced by these organizations. In addition to the many, many hours of creating much needed supplies, there were some celebratory times. For example, when reaching the Canada Sews’ milestone of 100,000 items delivered on May 16, 2020, this was “celebrated by co-hosting a “Mask-a-Thon” event with an organization in the US. This event resulted in “nearly 6,000 completed items in one day, in Canada alone,” and marked “the first time many of [the sewers] had seen each other’s faces (albeit over video calls).” 

There is a hope that one day, when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, members of the different organizations who produced the much-needed items for our frontline workers will be able to gather and share their stories.