A stitch in time saves lives
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A stitch in time saves lives

The Ribble family home in Elmira is a hive of activity, as volunteers pick up mask-making kits and return finished products to the porch, thus maintaining physical distancing. The initiative is looking for more volunteers and donations. [Damon Maclean]

Facing an unseen enemy and advised simply to stay home, we might be feeling somewhat helpless during the COVID-19 crisis. But from shopping for a vulnerable family member to checking in on our neighbours, there are ways we can do our parts.

For some, that might mean sewing up some personal protective equipment such as masks.

In that group, you can include the likes of Elmira’s Becky Ribble and Waterloo’s Melissa Bailey, who started off with a personal request for a mask and surgical caps, respectively, and quickly found themselves involved in much larger projects.

For Ribble, that one request for a mask just “snowballed” to the point where some 30 to 60 people are now sewing masks, coordinated through her Stillwater Street home.

She started a local COVID-19 response group on Facebook, and that would become the nucleus of the effort.

She and a group of volunteers have been making kits that others can take home, each containing enough material to make 24 to 30 masks. The finished masks are then returned to her home for distribution to those in need, including seniors, immune-compromised, group homes, GRT drivers and other frontline staff.

“There’s a pretty wide range of people … who need some protection,” said Ribble.

Where originally the use of masks was downplayed, health officials have changed their tune. Since that time, they’ve received many requests for masks.

“We can’t keep up,” she said.

There have been all kinds of volunteers and support from the community, including Mennonite groups, along with contributions of material from the likes of Hillcrest Home Baking, Taylor’s Bridal Boutique and the Wallenstein General Store.

“The response has been fantastic,” said Ribble, noting they’re still looking for people to do sewing and for donations to buy more materials to create the mask.

“There are so many people looking to get involved. Everybody wants a way to help.”

She estimates the group has prepared enough kits for about 5,000 masks, with demand still growing.

Volunteers are at the heart of the effort being coordinated by Bailey, as well.

An avid sewer, she made  a surgical cap at the behest of one person. Things grew from there.

“It’s been a week now, and it’s just ballooned,” she said.

coronavirus protection

Bailey went online with the project, and now there’s a private Facebook group of about 25 people.

By the start of this week, they’d made some 80 caps, and expanded into making face masks. By week’s end, she’s expecting some 200 pieces will have been made.

She bought a pattern for making the surgical caps, and the group of volunteers has been experimenting with a variety of mask patterns found online.

As with Ribble, she’s having people pick up material and drop off finished pieces of protective gear on the porch of her home, thus minimizing personal contact.

She, too, notes that donations have helped buy materials, along with contributions from those health-care workers who’ve come to pick up the caps and masks. The recipients of their handiwork include nurses and intake staff at Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital, as well as nursing homes and paramedics.

“These people still have to work, and they don’t have the things they need to keep them safe,” said Bailey.

In response, many people in the community have been generous with their time and money, helping to fill in the gaps due to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“There are a lot of people doing it,” she said of the effort to make such gear.

“We’re all doing it together. It’s been very rewarding,” Bailey added of the feedback they’ve received from frontline workers.

“We’re never going to be able to help everyone who needs help, but we are making a difference.”

Like many people, she’s at home instead of at work, and this project has provided her with a worthwhile cause.

“It gives me motivation to get going every day, something to work hard at,” she said, noting the group effort has helped build a sense of community.

In Elmira, Ribble said the effort continues to grow as people look to do what they can. They’re looking for more people to do some sewing, along with donations to help buy more materials. She can be contacted by email at theribbles@rogers.com.

While health officials have come around on the use of masks, they don’t, of course, offer full protection – you still need to practice all the other safety steps such as physical distancing – but they are helpful in preventing the spread of the virus, particularly with those who may be coughing and sneezing.

It’s better for others if you cough or sneeze into a mask rather than broadcasting it.

“You’re wearing it for the benefit of others. And others are wearing it for your benefit,” Ribble explained of sporting a mask in public.

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Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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