“Would you be able to make a few cloth masks for hospital visitors and patients leaving the hospital and heading home?”
That question came to Eleanor Plewes in an email from Dr. Rob Drury in late March. A few months and over 3,000 masks later, he’s had his answer.
Plewes reached out to her evening quilting guild and Victoria Quilts, a group that makes quilts for cancer patients. Thirty-five people responded.
The hospital supplied a pattern for a pleated mask and instructions. The quilters dipped into their fabric stashes and elastic was purchased with the help of donations from the Lindsay Lions Club and others.
To assist, Plewes has been leaving plastic bags of pre-cut fabric and elastic in a tote on her porch. Once a week Dr. Drury has been picking up 200-300 finished masks and delivering them to the hospital.
An additional 700 or so masks have come from Barb and John Rose. The Roses recruited two neighbours and a fellow quilter and submitted and had approved a design for a lined mask with a front seam.
Before retiring, the Roses operated a manufacturing upholstery business and have made good use of their skills. John was able to cut masks in bulk using a rotary cutting blade and helped string the masks.
“It’s been a team effort,” says Barb. “I have a great group that have raided their fabric stashes to donate to the cause; I’ve also had a couple of people who crocheted strings before elastic was ordered.”
Altogether over 6,000 homemade masks made from stashes, purchased fabric, and even cut up sheets, pillowcases, and old table linens have been donated to the hospital.
Some masks have been plain; others feature bold colours or whimsical patterns. For children, there’ve been masks featuring Snoopy or soccer balls. There have been some creative additions, too, like the headbands with buttons for straps to hook onto that Plewes’ group came up with.
Over the past months the hospital has found more and more uses for these non-medical cloth masks.
Dr. Drury explains: “Initially we used the cotton masks for discharged patients and compassionate visitors (family of dying patients). We then expanded their use for patients coming for tests such as CT and MRI. Later we gave them to family waiting with patients in the ER wait room. Now we give them to patients and families coming for day surgery. And if hospital staff want them for their family, we share.”
The efforts of the quilters haven’t gone unnoticed. “We’re so grateful for our local crafters’ willingness to help the hospital and the community respond to quickly changing healthcare needs,” said Erin Coons, RMH Foundation CEO. “Like those on the frontline, they are heroes at heart!”
It’s been rewarding for the quilters as well. “This makes me feel I’m participating in something beneficial,” says Rose. And as Plewes notes, sewing masks has been a distraction during anxious times: “Being housebound is stressful. It’s really helped to be busy and helping someone else.”
For now, the hospital’s mask supply is keeping up with demand, but a hospital spokesman notes, “As we ramp up services and see more patients in hospital, the need for cloth masks will increase. We are asking our community if they have the skill, time and materials, to please consider this important contribution to our efforts.”
If you would like to help out you can find a pattern and instructions for making, donating, and use of cloth masks here.
A final note from the hospital Whenever possible, we ask that if patients already have their own cloth mask, to please wear it to the hospital. This helps us preserve our supply for those without masks. If a community member needs a cloth mask, we ask them to purchase one from the many area businesses selling them. For example, Queens Square Pharmacy is selling masks and the proceeds help to support the RMH Foundation’s Heroes at Heart campaign. There are several other businesses selling masks, or community members can follow the pattern on our website to make their own mask.