UWindsor professor Ken Drouillard holding masksUWindsor professor Ken Drouillard is heading a research project to help the Windsor-Essex Sewing Force. The volunteer group recently passed a production milestone of 50,000 masks and scrub caps.

Sewing volunteers hit milestone

An army of volunteers aided by UWindsor researchers has hit the milestone of sewing more than 50,000 facemasks and scrub caps in one year.

The Windsor-Essex Sewing Force began producing personal protective equipment for local healthcare workers when the pandemic first struck. The group also provided masks to vulnerable populations, including seniors, low-income families, people with disabilities, migrant workers, and at-risk children.

The items were designed with the help of scientists at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. With a grant from the Office of Research and Innovation and the WE-Spark Health Institute, experts used GLIER’s scanning electron microscope to analyze materials and designed a database and website to track inventory, requests, donations, and sources for fabric and notions.

“Volunteers knew they wanted to make the best masks possible for our community,” said Rebecca Rudman, WESF co-founder. “It was natural for us to reach out to local researchers at the Great Lake Institute for Environmental Research with its expertise in quality control and materials analysis, and WE-Spark Health Institute with their network of experts at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, St. Clair College, the University of Windsor, and Windsor Regional Hospital.”

A survey is part of the project.

“Most mask surveys have been focused on healthcare professionals. We are leading a new mask survey of the public to understand their perspectives on mask fit, comfort, and usefulness,” said Ken Drouillard, lead researcher.

“Understanding the experience of people in the community is critical as public mask mandates have been shown to be a vital public health tool. We have a unique opportunity to improve tools for the remainder of this pandemic and prepare for the future.”

WESF enlisted the help of all sectors of the local community to get masks to the people who needed them most. Local organizations supporting the volunteer efforts include the City of Windsor, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, local quilt guilds, industry and small businesses, social service organizations, and advocacy groups.

“Our next step is a public awareness campaign to make sure everyone in the community who needs a mask gets one and raising funds to meet those needs” said Rudman. “In addition, WESF will be focused on sharing what we’ve learned with the science community.”

To request a mask or cap, to volunteer, to donate, or to take part in the mask survey, visit www.wesf.ca.

—Sarah Sacheli