By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, August 2020)
Sylvia Milne has a new hobby as of late. It started, as many passion projects do, as a one-off effort. An elderly gentleman was in need of a mask to use when he went grocery shopping. At the time, masks were in short supply, and so Sylvia, ever willing to lend a hand, offered to sew him one. That in turn led to sewing some as gifts for family and a few close friends. The masks were big hits, and people started insisting that they pay for their mask. Sylvia began to realize she was onto something, and that she could use her talents to serve a larger purpose.
Her thoughts turned to helping the Ottawa Food Bank, an especially important resource for Ottawa residents during the COVID 19 pandemic. Food Banks across Ottawa have had a 15 to 30% increase in first-time users as a result of COVID 19 and are in need of community support to meet these growing demands. Sylvia explains that, “in the case of a rapidly developing pandemic, it seemed to me that families struggling to put food on their table at the best of times would be more needy than ever,” adding that she expected demands to become even greater, “with illness, job losses and death posing more difficulties for increasing numbers of families.”
Having founded the Glebe Annex Community Association in 2013, Sylvia is no stranger to community service. Once again sensing the need, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. The biggest challenge in the beginning, was in finding supplies – especially elastic – before stores started to re-open again. A number of neighbours started donating their remnants from other quilting and sewing projects, allowing the project to take flight. Each mask takes more than half an hour to make – from tracing and cutting the pattern, to creating the lining to increase the mask’s filtration, attaching the elastic ear loops, and then sewing all the pieces together. She estimates that she’s created about 200 masks so far, all sold through word of mouth.
There is no set price – the masks are ‘sold’ by donation, and people have been generous. To date, Sylvia has raised approximately $1000 for the Ottawa Food Bank. She feels that she has also benefitted from this effort, however. “I met so many new, wonderful people- all wanting to do their part to control the spread of COVID 19… I am blessed,” she says of her efforts. Plus, working so hard made the months of lockdown fly by. There’s been no “Quarantine 15” for her, as the project has kept her too busy to think about raiding the refrigerator!
As she reflects on her achievements to date, Sylvia is quick to acknowledge those who have supported her throughout the endeavour, relaying a, “HUGE thank you to all who donated materials, time, cash for the Food Bank, and passed the word. I couldn’t have done this without you all.”