As It Happens

Meet the volunteers sewing masks for hospitals and nursing homes

Canada Sews started as one woman with a sewing machine, and has since blossomed into a network of more than 1,700 people making and distributing homemade masks to health-care facilities across four provinces. 

Canada Sews group started by Oshawa woman now has more than 2,000 members on Facebook

Teresa Shaver of Oshawa, Ont., is one of the founders and organizers of Canada Sews, which is making homemade masks for the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Teresa Shaver )


Teresa Shaver used to sew about once a week. Now she does it every day to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

The Oshawa, Ont., woman is one of the founding members and co-ordinators of Canada Sews, a volunteer organization that's making homemade masks for Canadian health-care facilities and communities.

"The most small thing I can do is make masks when I'm not working," Shaver told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

The group was the brainchild of Oshawa's Lee-Anne Moore-Thibert, but has since blossomed into a network of more than 2,000 people on Facebook. Volunteers make and distribute homemade masks to facilities across four provinces. 

'Yes, we'll help'

Last month, Moore-Thibert put the call for mask-makers on Facebook.

"So a bunch of us said, 'Yes, we'll help,'" Shaver said. 

From there, it took off like wildfire.

Volunteers sewing hundreds of masks for hospitals and nursing homes

2 years ago
Duration 1:33
Teresa Shaver is one of the founding members and co-ordinators of Canada Sews, a volunteer organization that's making homemade masks Canadian health-care facilities and communities.

"Health-care workers, some nurses, some different locations, some [personal support worker] organizations, nursing homes started contacting us to [ask] can we help make the masks because they need masks as well," Shaver said.

That small group of volunteers started calling themselves Durham Region Sews. Then Ontario Sews. Now they are Canada Sews, with volunteers in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

And they've teamed up with some UPS locations to get their products to where they need to go.

Not a replacement for medical gear

Shaver's home set-up for making masks. (Submitted by Teresa Shaver)

Shaver stresses that the homemade masks are not a replacement for medical-grade protective equipment like the N95 masks worn by doctors and nurses.

But, with shortages of supplies hitting hospitals with COVID-19 cases, health-care workers are looking for extra protection. 

"It's going over the other masks because in many cases the nurses and, you know, people on the front line have to use that same mask. Maybe they have two or three masks for a whole shift," Shaver said. "So they need an extra barrier."

Some public health officials in North America are discouraging people from wearing face masks, saying there is no evidence they are effective at protecting against the spread of COVID-19.

"We don't know for sure ... how they work. That's not science, that's kind of just stuff that people have been trying out," Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease researcher at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, told CBC News.

Some public health officials have expressed concern about the efficacy of homemade masks. (Submitted by Shelley Worley)

"It gives you a false sense of security."

But Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital has asked volunteers to sew 1,000 masks a day during the crisis, so they can give them to visitors and discharged patients and the wider community, conserving the N95s for staff.

It's important to wash them daily with hot water and detergent, the hospital says. 

Shaver says the orders keep coming in.

According to the group's Facebook page, Canada Sews has distributed more than 1,000 masks so far, and have received more than 7,500 requests to date.

So Shaver and her fellow volunteers are sewing away.

"It's a pleasure," she said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Andrew Nguyen. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 



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