With her extensive experience in sewing, Leaside resident Margaret Franklin was intrigued when she heard that Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) was asking east end residents to create 1,000 face masks per week for the hospital during the COVID-19 crisis.
Then she found an easy way to get involved. A friend told her that The Neighbourhood Office (TNO) in Thorncliffe Park was already working on the project through their partnership with the hospital and its work with the Thorncliffe Park Community Hub.
Soon the retired home economics teacher, quilter and weaver contacted Esel Panlaqui, the manager of community development and special projects at TNO, and joined her team of sewers in Flemingdon Park, Thorncliffe Park, Leaside and Don Mills.
The MGH Challenge does not involve medical-grade masks used by healthcare providers, but is directed at fabric masks for visitors to the hospital, patients who are discharged, and the broader community to help prevent disease transmission.
It was natural for TNO to take the challenge because of their existing sewing-related initiatives in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon. When they put out a call on Twitter for the MGH Challenge, they were overwhelmed with responses and took just the first 25 applicants. TNO staff deliver the materials (many of them donated by businesses, individuals and foundations) to the sewers, along with a list of safety tips, and then pick up the finished products, which are sanitized before delivery to MGH.
The design for the masks is a simple one and instructions are provided on both websites. As Margaret explained, “There are two layers of appropriate fabric: an outside layer of dark-coloured polyester or poly-cotton, and a light-coloured, softer cotton for the inner layer. The mask is then completed by inserting elastics or adding ties and making three pleats at each side.” It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make each mask, and by Easter she had already created 130.
Margaret’s friend, Peggy Williams, is another sewing enthusiast who has become involved in the challenge as she enjoys projects involving “people helping people” and MGH has a special significance for her family. Both Margaret and Peggy have high praise for Esel Panlaqui and enjoy their regular meetings with her and her team of sewers on Zoom. They are impressed by Esel’s leadership and organization of the group. In fact, Margaret says her “life has been enriched” by the experience and Peggy feels “privileged to work with such skilled and enthusiastic women.”
Esel reports that the group is proud of their work and the Zoom meetings are “good therapy to help the sewers to connect and find a sense of belonging in the midst of social distancing.” Their goal is to make 2,000 masks in four weeks, and to continue working for as long as necessary, hoping to produce masks for local residents as well.