Annex Helps Flatten The Curve Handmade Masks
In April this year, with the onset of the global pandemic, a group of dedicated volunteers launched Flatten The Curve Handmade Masks (FTC) to create non-medical masks to protect community health care workers and at-risk populations in Vancouver. The initiative, launched under the leadership of senior health consultant Susan Scott Gabe, and supported by Annex Helps, aimed to deliver 2,000 masks by May 15, 2020.
“When the pandemic hit, it brought many people together. Ms. Gabe started FTC and asked us if we were interested in working with her on this,” said Joyce Ozier, co-founder of Creekside Village Connexions, a Vancouver-based non-profit.
As the pandemic surged, it led to a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the community sector. The Canadian government asked citizens to wear non-medical masks to protect themselves from the virus. Ms. Gabe, who is on the board of several health care companies, monitored the situation closely as it unfolded. She reached out to several experts from University of Cambridge in England and University of Stirling in Scotland to understand the quality requirements for the masks. She and the FTC team concluded that the non-medical masks should be made of 100% cotton fabric with a minimum thread count of 350 to be effective.
“We were clear about the specific requirement of the fabric based on our research and the methodology to create the masks,” Ms. Gabe said.
Finding Material and Volunteers
The task of creating 2,000 handmade masks, especially during a global pandemic amidst a shutdown, was ambitious with plenty of challenges.
“We realized that we needed a team of volunteer sewers to make these masks. That ended up being more difficult than we thought it would be,” recollected Ms. Ozier.
This is where Annex Helps came in based on an introduction between Ms. Ozier and Stacey Cerniuk, the CEO of Annex Consulting Group Inc. The team at Annex immediately jumped on board and began recruiting volunteer sewers. FTC anticipated that these volunteers would have the required material, but that was not the case, so the organization had to pivot from their original plan.
“The majority of people do not have material with the required thread count lying around in their inventory,” Ms. Gabe commented.
FTC decided to supply the fabric to volunteer sewers. The logistics of the project turned out to be much more complicated than they had anticipated.
“That’s when we decided to find sponsors. Dania Down is a key sponsor who not only gave us the fabric but also had their employees pre-cut the fabric for each volunteer,” Ms. Gabe said.
With the support of Annex Helps and FTC’s efforts, the movement ballooned to more than 100 individuals and organizations volunteering and sponsoring the initiative.
“Our goal was to deliver 2,000 masks by May 15th. By May 10th, we reached that goal. What is remarkable is that we got it done within ten weeks of starting the project. We huddled every day, seven days a week, with a clear agenda, team reports, and key performance indicators,” Ms. Gabe declared.
FTC delivered the masks to high-risk populations in hospices, women’s shelters, community organizations, and the Immigrant Services Society of BC.
“This was a grassroots effort with volunteers ranging from 29 to 90 years old,” Ms. Gabe added.
The initiative was completely volunteer-driven, with some volunteers going above and beyond to make substantial contributions. One of them was Helen Summers, the mother of Stacey Cerniuk, CEO of Annex.
“Helen Summers made a lot of masks, and she invited her friends to volunteer. She really supported the organization,” Ms. Ozier said, who also is the Communications Lead for the project and editor of the FTC newsletter.
There were many great individual stories during the project including Mary McVicar making hundreds of masks herself, and Robert Schultz, Manager of IT Project Management Office Services at Interfor, being the one and only male volunteer.
Getting Ready for the Next Phase
As of June 2020, the curve representing new COVID-19 cases in British Columbia is plateauing. FTC has made 2993 masks and is working on phase two of its plan.
“We have a robust evaluation plan with metrics and data to assess phase one of the initiative. We are also holding webinars to work with other organizations across BC to understand their plans. We don’t want to duplicate what others are doing. We want to find gaps and niches and work to address them,” Ms. Gabe expressed.
The Canadian government has started opening the economy and experts are concerned about a potential second wave of cases. Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has warned that the pandemic is far from over. If it does resurge, FTC will be ready to respond with second and third phases of the handmade masks initiative.
Annex Consulting Group is an IT recruitment and solutions company that provides IT contractors, employees, and project teams to clients across North America. Established in 1998, Annex has placed thousands of IT and business professionals for hundreds of clients with an industry-leading 97% customer satisfaction rating.
About Annex Helps
Annex Helps is a volunteer program to help front-line essential services organizations, not-for-profits and charities in their fight against COVID-19. If you represent an organization that needs volunteers, or you wish to donate your time and expertise, please contact email@example.com. While Annex’s purpose is to make connections that change lives, the purpose of Annex Helps is to make connections that save lives.
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