Coquitlam woman hands out homemade masks to Costco and anyone passing her house

After health officials likened the donning of non-medical masks to coughing in your elbow or sneezing into a tissue, this Coquitlam sewer has made over 300 masks

Susan Walter admits she was a little skeptical about the benefits of wearing a mask to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.

But when British Columbia’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, gave her blessing to the covering — calling the donning of non-medical masks a “permissive use” — Walter got busy sewing.

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A month — and 300 masks — later, Walter’s work has connected her closer to the community around her Gabriola Drive home in Coquitlam and is raising money for a couple of causes close to her heart.

Now retired from her job assembling the course calendar at Simon Fraser University, the avid sewer started her mask making by fulfilling requests from friends. She also made some for members of Coquitlam Search and Rescue.

Walter said she would have stopped there, but when she got news an 83-year-old uncle had passed away in England from complications brought on by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the pandemic suddenly became very real to her. So she kept sewing masks. 

Walter sent some to Costco, where a friend’s daughter works. She packed others into plastic sleeves she had saved from the home delivery of her daily newspaper, and affixed them to a sign on her front lawn, offering them up free to any takers. 

In return, all Walter asked for was a donation to the Tri-Cities-based Share food bank or the Port Moody chapter of Days for Girls, a charitable organization that assembles feminine hygiene kits for young women in developing countries.

Walter said the project has had the added benefit of depleting her vast supply of fabric swatches she’s gathered over her years as a sewer. But, more importantly, she’s met strangers and neighbours who’ve not only heeded her call to help her causes but also earned her notes and letters of gratitude dropped into her mail slot, a bouquet of flowers delivered to her door and a bottle of wine left on her stoop.

“This project is lovely on so many levels,” said Walter, who often waits by her front window to watch people stroll up to her sign to retrieve a mask. “I’m connecting with people I don’t know.”

Eager to keep up with demand, Walter has even enlisted her partner, Jeff Rudd, to clip corners off the fabric or round up elastics.

Walter said she tries to make her masks appealing to any gender, and strives for whimsical colours and patterns when the fancy strikes her.

“People will turn this into something they’ll be proud to wear,” she said, adding she now pulls one on herself every time she ventures from the safety of her home.

“When I look outside and the bags are gone, I think I better get busy again,” Walter said.

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