Necessity is the mother of invention.
During the early days of the pandemic in Canada, a group of volunteers in Labrador decided to help promote the use of non-medical masks and to provide information about safe mask use.
The #clothmasks4Labrador project was born.
“There are strong crafting and sewing traditions in Labrador, and many highly skilled sewers,” said Cathy Jong, one of the project’s volunteers. “We thought that if we could get materials to the right people, and figure out a way to distribute masks, we might be able to help dramatically increase mask use by the public.”
Initially, the small group of volunteers partnered with the Labrador Friendship Centre and the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce. The group’s goal is to produce and provide masks for free to members of the public, especially those in high risk groups, throughout Labrador.
By the end of May, #clothmasks4Labrador secured grants from the International Grenfell Association, the United Way and the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, in addition to receiving in-kind support from the Nunatsiavut Government’s Department of Health and Social Development, and donations from the business community and the public. Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement is also a supporter.
More than 100 sewers in Central and Northern Labrador volunteered to help make masks. In Rigolet, April Allen, her mother Joyce, and Bailey Flowers quickly took up the challenge.
“My mother and I had a wonderful time sewing the masks,” said Ms. Allen. “When I told her about it, she piped up and said ‘I’ll help.’ We’re happy that we could help and be a part of the project.”
After borrowing two sewing machines from the town, in one week alone, the three-person team made 327 masks – enough for every community member. They have since sewn 70 additional masks for other communities.
To date, project volunteers have made more than 5,000 masks for communities on the North Coast and in Upper Lake Melville, with the first masks being given to essential workers and seniors.
“This really shows how much of a role communities can have in being part of a public health solution.”
The project also provided some of the materials for the Nunatukuvut Community Council’s One Mask at a Time project in Churchill Falls and on the South Coast of Labrador, where 65 sewers have made more than 2,000 masks.
“What is most remarkable about the success of this project is how quickly community members, businesses, and local governments and organizations really stepped up to make this happen,” said Nathaniel Pollock, an adjunct professor with Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine and a volunteer with the project.
“To me, this really shows how much of a role communities can have in being part of a public health solution.”
Throughout Labrador, free masks are being provided via government and community service organizations and through retail locations such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
When project members approached Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement for funding, Dr. Rob Greenwood, associate vice president of public engagement and external relations, saw an opportunity to pivot existing funds in a new, much-needed direction.
“At this critical time, it is imperative that our resources do the most good, in the most direct way, for our citizens,” said Dr. Greenwood. “We decided to use existing funds specifically for COVID-19 related projects between Memorial and the public, as exemplified by #clothmasks4Labrador.”
The fund, COVID-19 Response Quick Start, is now open to members of the Memorial University community. It will support new public engagement activities that are specifically designed to address community needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding #clothmasks4Labrador received from Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement has been used to create an educational infographic in Inuttitut, Innu-aimun, and English.