Mask makers to the rescue


Part of The Journal’s distribution team Kyle Shillibeer (right) volunteered his time to deliver individually packaged fabric masks handmade by our readers to the West Island’s Brunswick Medical Centre for use by asymptomatic patients.

How are the health needs of the community met while we’re all isolating due to a global pandemic? With a little help from the very same community members.

As the news broke earlier this spring that many businesses were under orders to close down and residents were told to stay indoors, time continued to march on and other health issues weren’t going to disappear – people still need to see their primary care physicians.

Family medicine specialist Dr. Barbara Hogenbirk of the West Island’s Brunswick Medical Centre put out the call for volunteers to sew face masks for use by asymptomatic patients and the response was immediate.

Upon seeing the posting on The Journal’s Facebook page, a number of our readers quickly rallied to produce a beautiful array of fabric facemasks. Some readers were out of town but still wanted to contribute to the effort, offering to mail their creations directly to the clinic.

“The response has been absolutely wonderful,” said Hogenbirk of sewing groups and individuals who rose to the challenge. “Because of them we’ve been able to keep the clinic clear of COVID.”

Once the initial collective effort passed 100 masks, The Journal’s distribution team donned their own masks and gloves and volunteered their time to collect the individually bagged creations and deliver them to the clinic.


An example of some of the beautiful creations crafted in response to the Brunswick Medical Centre’s request for masks.

“We’re going through about 500 a week and we’re always asking for more,” said Hogenbirk. The masks are given to the patients to keep and they’re asked to reuse them, once they’ve been washed, for any return visits. “Everyone who comes through the door gets a mask and we’d like to keep it that way.” While the Brunswick Medical Centre doesn’t allow entry to sick people, some may not know they’re carrying a virus and wearing a mask protects the clinic’s staff and clientele. “It’s a win-win if everybody wears a mask when they’re in the clinic.”

While most patients have been able to access necessary medical care through teleconferencing, some with more serious and chronic health needs or pregnant women need to be assessed in person. The masks have helped the clinic retain its government designated ‘cold’ status as opposed to ‘hot’ CDEs (Cliniques désignées de dépistage et d'évaluation) which treat patients who present with the virus or its symptoms.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak the clinic welcomed roughly 1000 patients daily and while ‘telemedicine’ has been a useful interim tool, hundreds of patients are still visiting the clinic weekly, hence the need for an ongoing supply of masks.

If anyone would like to contribute to the clinic’s efforts they can send an email to the mask coordinator at There are a number of mask-making tutorial YouTube videos available online. Volunteers to help distribute masks are also welcome and are asked to email for more information.

And to all the volunteers who have taken the time to make masks, Hogenbirk says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is so appreciated by everyone here.”

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