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Northern Lights recipient – Personal protection with a personal touch

On June 10, they were recognized for making and donating unique personal protective equipment for frontline workers and vulnerable Albertans.

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Location: Provincewide

“Protecting our People.” For a group of talented seamstresses from Maskwacis – home of members of the Ermineskin Cree and Samson Cree First Nations – it is a moto that has motivated efforts to help ensure the safety of Elders, frontline workers and other vulnerable community residents. Masks 4 Maskwacis was created when these dedicated volunteers came together, giving willingly of their sewing skills, time and compassion to produce supplies of facial coverings to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The work of Masks 4 Maskwacis has served as an inspiration to the community, and many local residents have stepped up with donations of material and other supplies. With many of the masks incorporating Indigenous designs, Masks 4 Maskwacis is helping to sustain the health of the community – and demonstrate the community’s pride.

While beautifully artistic quilts have delivered plenty of cozy nights sleep, it’s the efforts of the creative crafters in quilting guilds across the province to combat COVID-19 that have warmed the hearts of thousands of Alberta healthcare workers. A sewing pattern for a handy ‘scrub bag’ posted online by a southern Alberta quilting club soon caught the attention of sewers across the province. The scrub bags are used to safely transport clothing (or scrubs) home for laundering, helping to contain any traces of the COVID-19 virus that might have contaminated the scrubs. With clothing safely tucked inside, a scrub bag can be tossed into the washing machine and dryer. With more than 10,000 downloads of the pattern, it became apparent that coordination of the effort was required – and the province-wide Scrub Bags for Alberta Healthcare Workers was born. Quilters from guilds in Edmonton, St. Albert, Calgary and other communities throughout Alberta joined forces, putting needle and thread to work crafting thousands of scrub bags. Among those contributing to the effort were volunteers from the Parkland County area. The County Quilters Guild, along with fellow seamstresses of the Modern Quilt Guild, produced more than 1,500 of the handy totes, proving that success is in the bag when committed volunteers set out to meet the needs of the community.

When a non-profit serving many of Calgary’s homeless and most vulnerable issued an urgent plea for protective face masks, it became a call to action for Calgary’s Jacqueline Thomson Ness. As Calgary’s Mustard Seed street ministry continued to provide vital services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for personal protection equipment for volunteers and staff became critical. Within three days, Jacqueline handcrafted 60 masks and enlisted the help of her fellow needle threaders to produce even more protective face coverings. Her outreach resulted in some additional help as well as another assignment. When staff in the Emergency Room at the Foothills Hospital were in need of scrub caps, Jacqueline switched gears. She helped to produce more than 300 caps for the ER team. This goes to show that when the need arises, this is one volunteer seamstress who can ‘bobbin weave’!

Wearing face masks is an important step in helping to halt the spread of COVID-19, but for healthcare and other essential workers, after the long periods of use, straps holding the mask in place can begin to irritate the ears. We hear you, and so did Edmonton’s Dawn and Chad Taylor. When the husband-and-wife team, who are both immune-compromised, went into self-isolation, they stepped up to help others. Donating their time and Chad’s 3-D printer, the duo produced thousands of ‘ear savers’ for masks and then donated them to hospitals and anyone in need.

Hanna resident Paulette Murray also recognized the need for PPE to address face mask-related ‘earache.’ After finding a pattern for a surgical cap that featured buttons over which the elastic straps of a face mask could be looped, Paulette completed sewing the first batch of the ear saver caps and delivered them to essential workers. When her donation prompted requests for more of the caps, Paulette mobilized Hanna’s large corps of volunteers. Fueled by Hanna’s well-known community spirit, the volunteers have since crafted surgical caps for staff at long-term care facilities, doctors, nurses, homecare workers and first responders in Hanna, Whitecourt, Wetaskiwin, Calgary, Lethbridge, Ponoka and Red Deer. The surgical caps donated by Paulette and her fellow Hanna volunteers are helping put a lid on demand – and their story is music to our ears!

It’s not easy to think of others when you face big challenges yourself, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for Calgary’s Gina Bennett and Kimberley Lennox. Partners in a small Calgary costuming business, Costume Alchemy, Gina’s and Kimberley’s enterprise was hit hard when the COVID-19 pandemic struck – just weeks after opening the doors. Despite the stress of trying to keep their shop afloat, the duo teamed up with film workers from the Alberta chapter of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, donating their talent, time and the resources to produce more than 150 hospital gowns for the staff at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. The gowns serve as a protective, sanitary barrier between staff and patients, and must be made of fabrics durable enough to handle hard work and lots of laundering. While Gina, Kimberly and their team of wardrobe wizards look forward to once again outfitting theatre and screen performers, it’s the generosity of volunteers that is taking centre stage for now.

The selfless service of volunteers is more than an inspiration for people in their communities; it is a source of pride for their families. For the scores of Edmontonians who have received one of her handcrafted face masks, Martina McCormick is a hero. For her family, Martina is both hero and mom. “She sews from early morning to late afternoon everyday,” her daughter said. “She even delivers them, maintaining social distancing! My mom is an unsung hero, and I’m so proud of her.” At 73-years-young, Martina hasn’t lost a step, and – after stitching her way to 300 masks – she is determined to keep going until the need for masks for family, friends and people she will likely never meet has been sewn up!

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