Denzil Coleman is an essential worker during the pandemic, with a sideline.
A truck driver who makes regular trips from Niagara into the U.S., he understands the importance of wearing a mask. He doesn’t go anywhere without one — one that he has made himself. And when he’s not on the road, he’s sewing them for others.
Coleman has an interesting story. He first left his home in Jamaica, and a career as a tailor, in 1987, to come to Niagara-on-the-Lake as part of the offshore farmworkers program. He spent three seasons here, returning home in between, before deciding to apply for a work permit that would allow him to stay.
“I had met a woman here, and I decided I wanted to stay here,” he says. “The relationship didn’t work out, but the decision to stay did.”
Obtaining permanent resident status was a different system then, and wasn’t as difficult as it is now, he explains.
He got a job in a greenhouse in Fonthill, where he stayed until it closed, and then decided to get a licence to drive a truck, which he did, in 2001. After about 10 years driving for Challenger Motor Freight, he now works for John Deere, picking up parts in the U.S. and delivering them to Niagara.
And in the meantime he met a woman and developed a relationship that did work out, with NOTL native Amy Coleman, a Welland transit driver.
While she’s been laid off from work during the pandemic, she’s helped pick up supplies for the masks, although Denzil gets much of what he needs in the U.S.
“I had the trade,” he says, “and I can put it to good use helping out. I want to help keep everybody safe.”
He can whip up about 50 in a day when he’s not driving, and then he delivers them to the Husky Travel Centre where he’s been a regular for 23 years, and where he leaves his truck when he’s not on the road.
“I get home Saturday night, and I spend Sunday sewing,” he says.
He and Amy make a regular Monday morning trip to drop off a week’s supply, and pick up some breakfast for “a truck picnic.”
He makes the masks in three sizes, for adults, youth and kids, and enjoys looking for interesting fabrics.
The Husky’s Tracy Palleschi has known Denzil for years, and looks forward to seeing the Colemans with their mask delivery. At $7, the face coverings have been very popular, “and everyone loves the different fabrics,” she says. A batch he made with a Harry Potter design was snatched up in no time, the adult sizes as quickly as the kids, she adds.
“I have to find some more of that fabric,” Denzil says.