Celebrating volunteers who sewed PPE for local front-line workers

In mid-March, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency against COVID-19.

As the world struggled with its battle to flatten the curve, it was matched by a deficit of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks. To meet this need and support our front-line workers, a small group of sewing enthusiasts in Markham quickly turned into a York Region-wide army led by Shanta Sundarason and Gabriela Conceicao.

“When we went into lockdown, the shortage of PPE was always on the news,” Sundarason said. “Gabriela and I were wondering what we could do. We were stuck at home. We wanted to band together and get some items together to donate. We spread the word, and more volunteers joined our group.”

The group now consists of 120 active sewers and 30 drivers all rallying together. The initiative has been strongly supported by community donations of fabric and notions (thread, elastic, and buttons).

The York Region group began its journey on April 5th with its mission to provide an additional layer of protection to the front-line health service workers and the vulnerable population, to address the personal protective equipment shortage.

In its first 100 days, the group was able to fulfill requests for well over 22,000 masks, scrub caps, headbands, and wet bags to the local healthcare community (a wet bag is a bag the hospital workers put their contaminated uniforms into before leaving work; they throw the bag into the wash when they return home).

“We were so happy we could do something to get workers through the first couple of months,” Sundarason said. “And we were also able to do something to keep ourselves busy.”

“We are humbled by the generous donations of supplies from the community,” she added. “As our cities continue reopening and PPE becomes and remains readily available, we are slowing down on our mission and allowing our volunteers to take a well-deserved break.”

To celebrate all volunteers who have unselfishly donated so much of themselves to others during these unprecedented times, Sundarason commissioned the sewing of a memory quilt. She carefully collected scraps of fabric from each of her volunteers and had their names embroidered on. The next step was to have another volunteer, who was a quilter, piece the squares together to form a beautiful piece of art.

This surprise ‘art work’ was unveiled to all volunteers in a very emotional viewing this summer.

The quilt will now make its rounds from hospital wards to long-term care homes and hung as a tribute to all those that have given their time to help front-line workers during COVID-19.

Photo: Gabriela Conceicao and Shanta Sundarason.

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