Mask-making focus shifts to students as schools begin to reopen

Colleen Strong and Cathy Wong, of Canada Sews, delivering masks to the Inn of the Good Shepherd. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

Canada’s largest coordinated COVID-19 sewing effort is helping to protect children in Sarnia-Lambton as they begin returning to school this week.

Canada Sews has 35 teams countrywide, including 30 local sewers. Recently the Lambton–Huron-Perth chapter delivered 150 children’s face masks to The Inn of the Good Shepherd.

Irene Rose is one of two Canada Sews volunteers in Sarnia – about 40 others are in Lambton County – and she often spends eight-hour days at her sewing machine.

“It just makes my heart feel good that I’m helping people,” she said.

Rose started sewing masks in May on her own and donated about 250 to friends and family. When she ran out of elastic she looked online for more and discovered Canada Sews provides all materials to its volunteer sewers.

“They are just happy to have your sewing abilities,” said the retired medical lab technician.

The Lambton-Huron-Perth chapter has already produced 6,500 masks, headbands, scrub caps and wet bags (for washing health-care workers clothing), said co-ordinator Colleen Strong, of Grand Bend.

In addition to the Inn masks, Strong has delivered orders to Bluewater Health, local retirement and long-term care homes, Aamjiwnaang health clinic, and Community Living Sarnia-Lambton.

Local requests for masks poured in initially, remained steady, then slowed in August as COVID-19 cases waned, Strong said.

“When demand shifts to other parts of the country we help supply them,” she said. “We welcome all donations and new volunteers.  We’ve only got two in Sarnia and I’d like to see more.

“It’s a great way for teens to earn high school volunteer hours.”

Volunteers don’t always require sewing skills.  Canada Sews recruits drivers, fabric cutters, and button sewers for headbands masks that don’t hook around the ears.  They’re particularly helpful for those with hearing aids and bothered by the elastic.

Rose has single-handedly produced 400 items for Canada Sews, working at her machine for days at a time.

Like Rose, Strong was motivated to co-ordinate the regional chapter out of a desire to help frontline workers needing PPE.

But as schools open, the focus has shifted to providing students with masks, said the retired school principal.

The Inn of the Good Shepherd is again providing low-income families with new back-to-school backpacks full of school supplies, including washable masks.

CEO Myles Vanni said the Inn “put it out there that we needed masks” and Canada Sews was one of several that responded.

This year, the Inn has teamed up with Temple Baptist Church and is spending about $25,000 to provide 1,100 backpacks.

Backpacks are being distributed Sept. 9 and Sept. 16, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Inn, 115 John St.

Anyone who needs one can just show up with child ID and income verification.

For details on donating, volunteering or requesting an order from Canada Sews, contact the local chapter by emailing or visit