About three weeks ago, Straffordville’s Alana Haskett started receiving face mask requests from friends.
“Quite a few of my friends know I sew as a hobby, and they asked if I could make masks. Some had pre-existing medical conditions, immunity problems, cancer treatment patients, stuff like that. So I started out making 20, just for people who asked, over one weekend.”
Around the same time, she read an article about how ‘everyone is dying alone’ – a story that is still circulating online in various forms – because no one could be with terminal COVID-19 patients at that time.
“That kind of hit home for me,” said Haskett. “Unfortunately my mother passed away in October 2016. She contracted the flu while she was on vacation in Europe, where she passed away.
“So I guess my whole ‘mask initiative’ started in honour of my mom. If I could protect people from this happening to them, then I was willing to do whatever I could to help in any small way.”
Haskett’s mother had taught her how to sew and they often sewed together.
“While I’m working on the masks, I kind of think about her and helping others, and that this is something she would have done herself because she was such a generous individual.”
Haskett is selling a limited number of masks ($15 each) to the general public, and is donating “a lot of masks” to health care partners, food banks, midwives, retirement homes, women’s services, Community Living, and hospitals.
A sales and marketing manager for RubberWorks, Haskett can be contacted on Facebook through her own personal page, through her Creative Wanderer Facebook page (‘Handmade items made by Alana Haskett’), and email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“Loretta Lawson is assisting me in my efforts – she cuts the fabric for me.”
Over a three-week span, Haskett has made more than 2,500 masks – working a minimum 12-16 hours every day.
“It’s not something I foresaw myself ever doing, that’s for sure,” she laughed. “This was just a hobby for me – most of the time I just sewed hand bags. But this is where we are right now, so…”
She did take most of the Easter long weekend off, however, to recuperate from exhaustion.
Haskett recalls when she first started making face masks, reception from the community was mixed. Some strongly recommended face mask, and many disparaged them.
“The outpour of negative comments was insane,” said Haskett. “It is funny how seven days time changed those comments. It took the whole world – as a whole, the media, the WHO, saying ‘you know what, wearing a mask is important right now.’ It changed the whole dynamic.”
It means that at this point Haskett does not have enough stock. She is hundreds of orders behind.
“I can’t even help everyone that asks for help because I’m only one person. And right now, because of the pandemic, I can’t even rally with other sewists to meet up, so it’s very difficult. I can’t say to all the church groups, ‘let’s get sewing, I’ll provide all the fabric…’ We can’t get together.”
The actual number of people with sewing skills is somewhat limited, she said admitting it’s a generational skill.
“I would say most 31-year-olds have never operated a sewing machine. Pre-pandemic, all my friends called me a nerd because I liked to sew, which is fine because they like what I sew. It is more of an older person activity – I’ve been to sewing retreats and the average age would be 60-plus.”
But she knows there are people ‘out there’ who sew – people who could potentially help.
“If somebody wanted the pattern, I would happily send them what I am working from. It’s readily available online. It’s a pattern that creates a fit, it covers the nose and extends out to the chin.”
Haskett had started with a ‘fairly substantial’ fabric collection, but as of Easter weekend, it was down to almost nothing.
“Where I ordered from online, they are 80-90 per cent sold out.”
Cherished Pieces in Tillsonburg, a quilting fabric and sewing store operated by Cynthia and Bill Hildebrand, has been very helpful, said Haskett.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be able to keep going at this point because I would not have material.”
The biggest challenge, she said, is locating quarter-inch or eighth-inch graded elastic bands required for masks. Some alternate suggestions that have been made online do not meet health care requirements for durability and safety.
When it comes to selling face masks to the general public, Haskett has learned to only make masks after receiving payment (e-transfer) – too many people cancelled orders after she had made their ‘custom-order’ masks.
“That does not work for everyone. I get it. Some people do not feel comfortable sending money. But I also have posts on social media with hundreds and hundreds of comments saying for example, ‘I bought 20 masks from Alana, they are amazing. I highly recommend what she is making.’ There is not one comment that says, ‘I sent her a payment and she did not get me my masks.'”
She did have an unfortunate situation recently. Haskett was using ‘pickup bins’ – one in Courtland and one in Straffordville – to avoid home deliveries when possible.
“Over 50 masks were stolen (in Courtland) over the course of two days,” she said. “Someone stole everything that was in there… so that really put me behind. I guess at this point masks are worth more than gold.”
When an order is placed, Haskett asks ‘how many?’ and whether they are for adults (large) or children (small), males or females.
She is getting orders from Haldimand, Norfolk, Brant, Oxford, and Elgin counties – and she knows some are mailed beyond Southwestern Ontario.
“Most recently there have been a lot of inquiries from local farmers because they want to get them for their offshore workers that are coming in.”
A typical, average request would be seven masks, she said. Some have asked for 20, 30 or even 50.
“Women’s Services wanted 200,” she noted.
Haskett not only makes masks, she wears them when she leaves the house to drop off masks, or shops for groceries in Straffordville.
“At this point, if I get sick, more than one person is in trouble.”