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Stories and More from the People of Kingston and Frontenac County

… but all the 3D printers in town had essentially been commandeered to print face masks

Meghan Engbretson's COVID-19 Story

May 19, 2020

Meghan Engbretson describes how she helped organize the collection of home-made cloth face masks for Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

In March of 2020 I was thrown into a brand new job, my dream job, as Infection Control Practitioner at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. COVID-19 was still kind of obscure – a case here and there in Canada but not front and centre. I landed in a team of seasoned professionals trying to get their bearings in what would be referred to as, time and again, an “unprecedented situation". There was no time for training me on the basics and I was scrounging for a way to be useful. The idea of sewing cloth masks for patients was brought up and as a beginner sewer I took a haphazard stab at it that night after work. What I got looked somewhat like something you could maybe use to cover your face, if you were desperate.

It was time to outsource. My director mentioned that her friend, Kathleen [Rogers], had started a Facebook group to sew masks as a group and we partnered to expand our circle. Our intent was to provide a fabric mask for patients coming to the hospital for dialysis, chemotherapy, or any appointment that would bring them in frequently or for long periods of time. We set an ambitious goal of 1000 masks only to then hear that our oncology program would need 500 masks per week. I had no idea that we had that many patients coming to our hospital for cancer treatment. We upped the goal to 3000 and appealed to our Facebook group that was growing steadily.

Home-made face mask with bias-tape

I started to get bags of masks being dropped on my front porch, sometimes with encouraging notes inside that I would tape up in our office. Our team at work would diligently bag, label, and count the masks to be distributed. With the help of some publicity from the hospital our network grew until we were relying on volunteers to make contact-less pickup runs, and Frontenac Mall Coin Laundry to wash our masks and act as a central collection point. One Saturday morning a member in our group published an article with a link to a 3D printed tool that allowed for mask pieces to be sewed more quickly and without the risk of burned fingers from the iron.

3D-printed bias-tape makers

It was really neat but all the 3D printers in town had essentially been commandeered to print face masks. I then remembered an article I had read a while back about the Kingston Frontenac Public Library getting 3D printers. I reached out to them that morning and, to my surprise, immediately received a response that they were ready and willing to help. Before I knew it I was driving all over dropping off these 3D printed bias tape makers and my porch was covered in bags of masks, fabric, and other donated sewing supplies. We ended the campaign after counting a staggering 4200 masks sewn, all from members of our community in their spare time. An astonishing feat of community kindness I won’t soon forget.