She won't stop until COVID-19 does: Former refugee sews 1000s of masks

Celina Urbanowicz has been sewing hundreds of masks for front-line workers in eastern Ontario, as a way of repaying the country that welcomed her 23 years ago. This Mother's Day, her daughters decided to go public with her story.

Pandemic is giving Celina Urbanowicz chance to repay country that welcomed her

Celina Urbanowicz, a trained seamstress, has been stitching hundreds of masks for care homes and health-care facilities in Ottawa. Urbanowicz was welcomed to Canada more than two decades ago as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, and says COVID-19 has given her an opportunity to return the favour to her adopted country. (Camila Hajrizi)

Celina Urbanowicz has been busy. 

When COVID-19 hit, the 60-year-old went down to her basement and started sewing hundreds of face masks, staying up some nights until 5 a.m. on the labour of love.

Urbanowicz came to Canada 23 years ago from the former Yugoslavia, as a refugee fleeing the Kosovo War. The trained seamstress says when the pandemic offered her a chance to give back to the country that welcomed her, it was a no-brainer.

"Now has come the time to help Canadians," she said. "People want to help people and do their best. That's my mission."

'Today we honour her'

Urbanowicz's two daughters have been helping her sew and gather materials, reaching out to the community for donations when supplies got low. 

As Mother's Day approached, they wanted to both surprise their mother and draw attention to the work she's been doing, so they went public with her story.

"She's just a wonderful, amazing woman. And I think that today, we honour her and value her and we appreciate her," said Roksana Hajrizi, one of her daughters.

"This is how our mother always has been, and she's always taught us to always give a helping hand," said her other daughter, Camila Hajrizi.

"I can never be as half of the woman that she is, honestly."

Celina Urbanowicz and her daughters, Camila Hajrizi (left) and Roksana Hajrizi (right), have been working together to stitch hundreds of masks for at-risk workers in Ottawa and eastern Ontario. (Camila Hajrizi)

Too many to count

So far, 300 of Urbanowicz's masks and 600 gloves have gone to the Manitock Place Retirement Community, where her son works as a chef. 

Hundreds more have ended up at Ottawa Carleton Lifeskills, where residents sent her pictures with notes of thanks after they received them.

Urbanowicz has also donated to The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus, and says those masks will be distributed across eastern Ontario. Next, she wants to give some to CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital, and the family is also hoping to supply masks, hand sanitizer and foodstuffs to the city's homeless population.

While she can't count how many masks she's made in total, Urbanowicz estimates it's close to 1,000. 

And there's only one thing, she adds, that will bring an end to her work.

"When the corona stops, then I stop."


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