Women sew free masks

Tina Sheard and Judi Francisco are making masks as part of the Pinelands CAN initiative.

Tina Sheard and Judi Francisco were complete strangers, but lockdown brought them together for a common purpose – to help their community.

The two women, both teachers, connected through social media and started a mask-making project as part of the Pinelands Community Action Network (CAN) initiative.

They roped in a handful of women to help sew, and since lockdown started they have made and distributed more than 2 600 free masks.

Ms Francisco said that during level 5 they had found a driver with a permit who would pick up and drop off materials and then collect the completed masks.

“We concentrated on Pinelands first. At the beginning of lockdown, the concept of the mask was still new, and we wanted to reach out to our old age homes and soup kitchens at first.”

But as word spread, more people offered their help and they went from making 30 masks to hundreds at a time, and they expanded from Pinelands to Mowbray, Langa, Mitchell’s Plain and Delft.

“The community has really rallied behind this project,” said Ms Sheard. “People have donated fabric, elastics and financially towards this project. It has been amazing to be part of this project.”

They include instructions – in both English and Xhosa – with the masks, explaining why it is important to wear one and the procedure for donning and doffing it. They have also made two instructional videos.

Ikamva Labantu, a non-profit organisation based in Woodstock, which works in townships by providing training, resources and support to empower communities, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the masks, and spokeswoman Candice Parkin thanked Ms Sheard and Ms Francisco and their “wonderful band of sewers for being heroes”.

She added: “Together you care for those people living in difficult circumstances and your compassion shines through. During this time, it is incredibly reassuring to know that we have your support.”

Ms Francisco said she had joined Pinelands CAN because she wanted to help but couldn’t financially because lockdown had dealt a blow to her husband’s income.

“I am an IT teacher and can’t sew, but I’m good at admin and put that skills to work. We did not know each other before this but managed to work so well together. It feels good being part of something bigger.”

Ms Sheard said she had found a sense of purpose among all the anxiety during lockdown.

“It just reinforced my belief in humanity, to see people from various backgrounds and religions come together for a common purpose. We are breaking through in our own small way.”