As we hear daily from health care officials and politicians of the need for personal protective equipment, the shortage of supplies, and the slow progress being made to meet the high demand, a local business owner has decided to do something to help.
Simply White Interiors is a Niagara-on-the-Lake company offering design services that include custom drapery, bedding, and upholstery. When owner Brenda Petrunick had to put work on hold March 22, she realized her business has the talent, materials, and a large Airport Road workshop that could be put to work manufacturing protective items for health care workers.
Three of the company’s seamstresses, sewing in a workshop set up with commercial-grade sewing machines, have turned their skills to producing personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns, and even headbands that provide some relief from the discomfort caused by mask elastics.
Petrunick has also had requests from local retirement homes, and from nurses, for washable bags so they transport their daily scrubs safely.
“I was sitting in my living room and realized I couldn’t listen to the news anymore, so I started putting something together to help. I didn’t feel good about doing nothing,” she says.
She describes the project “as a puzzle, and everyone involved is a piece of that puzzle. Now we’ve got the pieces of the puzzle put together.”
It took a few days to put all the pieces together, she says, including obtaining the materials she needs to produce the protective equipment.
One of her regular suppliers, Maxwell Fabrics in Vancouver, offered to donate fabric. The design she was planning for masks are fabric with a HEPA filter, and she thought she had a source for the filter, but that fell through. After purchasing filters herself, her friends Brett Sherlock and James Booty began collecting donations to help. They sent out letters to their friends, receiving $14,000 in donations in just a few days, including $3,000 from local artist Ron Clavier from the sale of one of his paintings.
HEPA filters make up the majority of expenses, but Petrunick will also need to purchase more fabric for paramedic gowns, which have different requirements than hospital gowns, as well as for elastic for masks and headbands, and material for the ties.
Gowns are being produced for EMS Niagara paramedics, from a non-permeable fabric similar to what would be used for shower curtain liners, says Petrunick. She is also making surgical caps for doctors and nurses from a template of those used in hospitals, she says.
The protective equipment will go to local hospitals and long-term care homes, who are reaching out to her for help, in addition to EMS.
“This is a time when everyone is being asked a lot. We have a demand, and we can help to fill it.”
Petrunick is cutting material at home, and dropping the pieces off on the porches of three seamstresses volunteering their time. She is limiting the sewing to those three people in the workroom, she says, for physical distancing.
“Nothing matters as much as this, for all of us,” says Petrunick, who has received requests from 14 different organizations.
“This is a huge venture to get into, and the demand will be ongoing. Maxwell Fabrics is willing to stand by us, even if it’s six months from now — we don’t know how long this need will go on.”
Petrunick has health problems that put her at risk, so she is very sensitive to the importance of keeping front line health care workers healthy, for themselves, their families, and for all who will require their care.
“We just had to do something, like anybody else who could help. So many others are stepping up, and it’s so good to see that. This is our contribution.”
Anyone interested in donating can do so with a cheque payable to Simply White Interiors, with a memo noting COVID-19, or e-transfer to Kirk@swi.design.
Or, says Sherlock to his friends, drop a cheque off to him.