North Vancouver seamstress leads project to sew for health-care safety

A North Shore woman who has been sewing for much of her life is calling on local crafters to join her in sewing their way to safety during the coronavirus pandemic, producing caps and gowns for health-care workers.

Claire Gamache says the cause is close to her heart as her mother works for Vancouver Coastal Health organizing home support workers.

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Gamache said she’s heard that outside of hospital settings, supplies of personal protective equipment among non-acute health care workers like midwives and walk-in clinics are running low.

Gamache decided that was something she could do something about.

“What I'm making is reusable, personal protection equipment, like gowns and caps,” she said.

The gowns and caps can be laundered in hot soapy water between uses in regular laundry machines, she said.

Gamache said she managed to source the particular water-resistant nylon fabric required for the gowns from Dressew Supply in the Downtown Eastside, which gave her a deal on the fabric when staff found out what she was doing. “I have it in industrial quantities,” she said.

Gamache then created a pattern for the caps and gowns and has been cutting the fabric and dropping off packages to about 60 volunteer seamstresses, with the help of four volunteer drivers. About two-thirds of those doing the volunteer sewing are on the North Shore.

She’s managed to get about 200 gowns and 100 caps done so far, but said there’s a need for far more.

The volunteer sewers create the gowns at different rates. Gamache said she can probably sew six to 10 gowns in an hour, but everyone works at their own pace.

She said she could definitely use more people to sew, however, as well as help cutting out the fabric. She’s also welcoming donations to cover costs of materials.

Gamache said her group of volunteer seamstresses have also been making masks, but they are only for non-clinical settings as the homemade variety don’t meet specific standards of either N95 or surgical masks.

Last Wednesday, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry voiced concern that frontline medical staff have been using personal protective equipment (PPE) at a much higher rate than expected.

Since then, health authorities have been putting measures in place to try to preserve more protective gear, she said, by putting all patients with COVID-19 together so staff can attend to all of them without having to change their protective clothing in-between patients.

Supplies are on order, and continue to be received, said Health Minister Adrian Dix, but there’s huge international demand for the protective equipment, which means B.C. is competing for scarce supplies with every other health authority around the globe.

In the meantime, Gamache is eager to connect with additional volunteers, who can reach her at gamache.cj@gmail.com.

Gamache has also started a gofundme page for donations that can be used to purchase more fabric, thread and other supplies.

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