More residents are appearing around town in masks, as the message to the public has changed in support of the benefits of wearing them outdoors.
Many doctors and top medical health officials are encouraging the use of masks, not so much for personal protection but as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending wearing non-medical masks out in public.
But as one senior, who contacted The Local, said, “we’re being asked to wear a mask when we go out, but where are we supposed to get them?”
Fran Boot, co-founder of Niagara COVID-19 Masks, first organized a group of sewers to make masks for front-line health care workers to fill in the gaps until supplies could get to them.
The group was launched March 21, led by Boot, her sister in Grimsby, and Julia Buxton Cox. With a group of 60 volunteers, they designed, sewed and distributed more than 3,750 masks in four weeks.
Orders have slowed as frontline workers have masks now, and official personal protective equipment is making its way to them, says Buxton Cox.
After donating 150 masks for migrant workers to wear when they go into town, the women read about a woman in Iowa who was tying masks to the tree in her front yard, says Buxton Cox. “Fran rigged up a bird feeder pole at her house and voila!” In no time they had set up several mask trees around the community, to make masks available for residents who need them.
The trees are outside from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., although some are taken inside if it’s raining, she says.
The group is asking for a donation of $10 to $20, and 100 per cent of the proceeds will be split between three organizations: Southridge Shelter in St. Catharines, which provides essential services such as food and shelter to people in need; The Raft in St. Catharines, which helps youth throughout the Niagara Region with shelter, support services and programs; and Night Light Youth Services, a Niagara Falls shelter for homeless youth.
Mask trees can be found at 2252 Four Mile Creek Rd., 2002 York Rd., 607 Simcoe St., 387 Simcoe St., 474 William St., 43 Colonel Butler St. and 13 Kirby St.
As masks sell out, some trees may be inside or empty, but those looking for masks are encouraged to try again in a few days. Volunteers are continuing to sew, with a main goal of getting masks into the hands of NOTL residents, says Buxton Cox.
On Bay Berry Lane, those looking for fabric masks can be found at “the equivalent to a lemonade stand,” says resident Monique Kruppa.
She loves to sew, and she loves bright, colourful fabrics. For several years, she and her sister owned two fabric and yarn stores, one in the Old Town and one in Virgil, and although the stores are closed, she still considers herself a collector and hoarder of beautiful fabrics.
She also likes to keep busy, and so, while self-isolating, with a job of painting houses and refinishing and painting furniture and kitchen cabinets on hold, she decided to go to work making bright, cheerful masks for anyone who needs them.
“I was sitting here at home doing nothing,” she says. “I decided to make some masks for my family, and then I made some for neighbours, and for neighbours’ friends.” She also made some for a business contact in Queenston, and now, she says, pretty much everyone in the village must be wearing her masks.
She sells them for $15, and is donating $5 from each one sold to Gillian’s Place, which provides shelter and resources for women and children living with domestic violence. She donated the total sales from the first 100 masks she sold, she says.
She is selling them from her 55 Bay Berry Lane porch, she says, with a coffee can for people to deposit their cash, and a good view from inside to keep an eye on the porch.
She can sew about 20 a day — without a supply of elastic, she makes fabric ties, which take more time, and that allows her to have a sufficient supply on her porch, more than she had any idea she would be making when she first began this project.
Kruppa is staying at home with her family, which includes her husband, a teenager, and a young adult son with his girlfriend. “We’re very fortunate we can be home with loved ones, and we’re all getting along with each other,” she says.
But not everyone is so fortunate, she adds. A lot of people are forced to stay home with people who are not treating them well, who are abusive, which is why she has chosen to donate to Gillian’s Place, which continues to help women and children during a time when the need to help is greater than ever.
And as a word of caution, physical distancing rules apply to those who may be purchasing a mask. Kruppa is concerned about being unable to police that from inside her home, so she asks, please, to follow guidelines and stay safe.
To women and children in need of help, call or text the Gillian’s Place 24/7 crisis support line at 905-684-8331.