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VCC immigrant entrepreneurs sew face masks to fight COVID-19

Posted on April 9, 2020

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Update April 24, 2020: the Sewmates Craft collective has made and delivered 800 masks to date with over 500 more on order! Follow @sewmatescraft_ on Instagram for the latest info. 


Six participants of a Vancouver Community College (VCC) entrepreneurship program have turned their business skills to volunteerism in the fight against COVID-19.

The six women were part of the Make It! program, a community partnership started in 2018 to help newcomers to Canada gain skills in sewing or cooking, and get support to develop home-based businesses.

Along with Florence Kao, who is coordinating the group’s efforts through the Intercultural Women’s Maker Society (IWMS), MakeIt! participants donated the time and material to sew their first 100 cloth face masks, which were completed on Tuesday, April 7. The women make the masks at their homes, and all products are washed and packaged prior to delivery.

The first donation was sent to Mission Possible, a Vancouver community development agency that is coordinating the distribution of masks to people in the Downtown Eastside 

The sewing group is currently seeking donations to help purchase material for thousands more masks.

“We are hoping to leverage the initiative to do some fundraising,” says Florence. “We want to invite people to sponsor some donations to designated care home facilities or homeless shelters.”

Donations can be made through the IWMS website. DiverseCity, a Surrey-based community organization and partner in Make It! have kicked off the fundraising with a $1,000 donation.

Florence emphasizes that the masks are not a replacement for medical-grade masks, which should be reserved for front-line workers. 

Since 2018, the women in the Make It! program have been honing their sewing and small business skills in workshops at VCC’s Downtown campus. Today, their sewing collective, branded Sewmates Craft, produces and sells a variety of handmade items in shops, fairs, and online.

Michael Yue, manager of VCC’s Partnership Development Office, is especially proud of the group’s participation in the mask-making initiative. “It certainly is a great legacy of the Make It! project,” he says.

 

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According to Health Canada, wearing a non-medical mask in the community has not been proven to protect against COVID-19, however, it can be used as a measure to protect others around you. Canadians are currently advised to wear non-medical face masks in situations where proper physical distancing can’t be ensured.

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Please visit VCC's COVID-19 information site regularly for official college updates, FAQs, and helpful resources.