7-month effort —  more than 50 sewers contributed

“The number of people in Northumberland who were willing to sew with this specialized material just amazed me”

Just as this past year was filled with challenges, it was also filled with bright moments as community members across Northumberland County rallied together in the fight against COVID-19. One such moment, which sparked many more, was when Jessica Sears signed on to support coordination of a volunteer initiative to create handmade face masks for the use of patients and essential visitors at Northumberland Hills Hospital (NHH) – an initiative that flourished locally thanks to her leadership and the incredible efforts of a small but mighty team of local sewers who produced more than 7,700 masks in just seven months.

Early in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear the use of face coverings would play an important role in helping decrease the spread of the virus, something that holds true today during the continuing battle of the second wave. Access to face masks presented a challenge, because of personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for those on the frontlines and a need to preserve those materials. With an aim of ensuring Northumberland County had access to quality masks, the leadership team at NHH determined early on that a supply was needed to hand out to those with reason to be at the hospital – outpatients attending chemotherapy and dialysis, inpatients upon discharge back to the community, essential visitors, and others.

(L-R) Jessica & Lindsay during the final dropoff of completed masks

In stepped Jessica, whose husband, Tom, had heard of this need during a discussion with NHH’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Mukesh Bhargava. Jessica is an avid and skilled sewer, and volunteered her skills, testing a sample of blue medical grade material NHH made available to her in order to sew a prototype and determine the viability of using the material for masks.

Once it was determined the material, typically used to wrap medical equipment during sterilization, could be repurposed to create face masks, the next challenge was to find skilled sewers who could help with their creation. As a regular patron of the Stitch Witch in Cobourg, Jessica contacted the owner, who sent a callout to the store’s email list, which was instrumental in recruiting volunteers to Jessica’s local team. While many individuals were involved in the Northumberland effort, more than 50 sewers contributed to Jessica’s team effort, with a core group of about 15 local sewers continuing for the full seven months. Jessica coordinated efforts with these volunteers, putting together packages of raw materials that volunteers picked up from her porch and returned as face masks, which were then be dropped off in bundles at NHH, where they were sterilized for distribution.

“The number of people in Northumberland who were willing to sew with this specialized material just amazed me,” says Jessica. “I was a stranger to most of the volunteer sewers originally, but we all meshed and came together for a good cause. We had no idea the severity this pandemic would have on our community, but this was one way we could use our skills to try to help. Knowing we could contribute in a useful way was so important, and the camaraderie and friendships that developed in the group are something good that came out during a challenging time.”

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