Raising funds for the Ottawa Food Bank, one stitch at a time

Sylvia Milne at work sewing masks to raise food bank funds   PHOTO: Doug Milne

By Sue Stefko

Sylvia Milne has a new hobby. It started, as many passion projects do, as a one-off effort. An elderly gentleman was in need of a mask to use when he went grocery shopping. At the time, masks were in short supply, and so Milne, ever willing to lend a hand, offered to sew him one. That in turn led to sewing some as gifts for family and a few close friends. The masks were big hits, and people started insisting that they pay for them. Milne realized she was onto something, and that she could use her talents to serve a larger purpose.

Her thoughts turned to selling the masks to raise money for Ottawa Food Bank, an especially important resource for Ottawa residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local food banks across Ottawa have had a 15- to 30-per-cent increase in first-time users and are in need of community support to meet these growing demands.

“In the case of a rapidly developing pandemic,” said Milne, “it seemed to me that families struggling to put food on their table at the best of times would be more needy than ever.” That need, she added, would only become greater “with illness, job losses and death posing more difficulties for increasing numbers of families.”

Having founded the Glebe Annex Community Association in 2013, Milne is no stranger to community service. Once again, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. The biggest challenge in the beginning, when stores were closed, was finding supplies, especially elastic. Neighbours started donating remnants from other quilting and sewing projects, allowing Milne’s work to take flight. Each mask takes more than half an hour to make – tracing and cutting the pattern, creating the lining to increase the mask’s filtration, attaching the elastic ear loops and then sewing all the pieces together. She estimates that she’s created about 200 masks so far, all sold through word of mouth.

There is no set price – the masks are “sold” by donation, and people have been generous. To date, Milne has raised approximately $1,000 for the Ottawa Food Bank. She feels she has also benefited from the effort. “I met so many new, wonderful people all wanting to do their part to control the spread of COVID 19,” she says. “I am blessed.” Working so hard, she adds, made the months of lockdown fly by. And no “Quarantine 15” for her – the project kept her too busy to think about raiding the refrigerator!

As she reflects on her achievements to date, Milne acknowledges those who supported her, relaying a “huge thank you to all who donated materials, time, cash for the Food Bank, and passed the word. I couldn’t have done this without you all.”

Sue Stefko is president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.

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