Community groups connect and collaborate to produce face masks

While the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to shut down physical spaces in communities, Wilmot residents are still looking for ways to help out.

Stephanie Goertz models one of the masks she made, using fabric donated by TCP - Photo Stephanie Goertz

On March 12, The Community Players of New Hamburg decided to postpone its productions of Beauty and the Beast and To Kill A Mockingbird until further notice, due to public health and safety concerns.

“We’ve been keeping our ear to the ground, trying to reschedule our shows, and we’ve continued to watch the news,” said TCP president Aaron Fewkes in a phone interview.

On April 6, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam advised that “Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you,” although she cautioned it won’t necessarily protect the wearer. “A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces.”

“That got our team thinking,” said Fewkes. “We’ve changed our community sign in town to applaud front line workers and encourage people to stay home, but is there any other way we can help? My mind went to the fabric we have in storage.”

TCP’s costume team pulled out eight bolts of fabric, all of which are brand new and have never been used. “They’re left over from costumes that were made for previous shows that probably won’t be needed again.”

TCP president Aaron Fewkes with one of the bolts of fabric the theatre group is donating to make face masks. “TCP has many business partners in town who continue to work really hard, and we want to support them.” Photo – TCP

TCP president Aaron Fewkes with the bolts of fabric the theatre group is donating to make face masks. “TCP has many business partners in town who continue to work really hard, and we want to support them.” Photo – TCP

Fewkes emailed Wilmot’s councillors to see if they knew of any community members who would be able to put the fabric to good use, which led to a connection with St. Agatha resident Stephanie Goertz.

“About a week ago, I decided that I could help with fabric face masks,” said Goertz. “I was looking for something that I could do. I had a sewing machine tucked away in my closet that I hadn’t used for a while, and decided this was something I could do, since I wasn’t leaving my house.”

The fabric donation from TCP came at just the right time. “I have lots, and I’m planning on sharing with others so masks can be made quickly.”

Goertz sourced mask kits from Len’s Mill Stores in Waterloo. “The problem I found was that they fit small, and the elastic material they provided was very hard to sew, breaking numerous needles.”

“I searched online and found a pattern that could be done quickly, even if you handstitched instead of using a sewing machine. I’m hoping this means more people are willing to make masks.”

“The 70 masks that were sewn this weekend are supposed to go to Pfenning's Organic Farms’ employees, but since the masks are a bit small, I’m hoping to use the new pattern to make additional masks quickly, with greater variance in size.”

Goertz isn’t sure how many masks will be needed in the community. “Health Canada is now saying everyone should wear a mask. Wilmot would need several thousand to cover anyone still working and serving the public.”

“I definitely can’t do it on my own. My strength is in bringing people together and finding new possibilities so we can accomplish more with what we have. My plan is to work with others who are already coordinating the distribution of masks, so we aren’t trying to do similar jobs.”

Fewkes said he and Goertz intend to use the Wilmot Stronger Together Facebook group to find other businesses that might need masks. “TCP has many business partners in town who continue to work really hard, and we want to support them.”

“In small towns, it’s about building relationships. It’s those relationships that result in great things in our community. We are stronger together.”