Visit the original article written by Community Links published on SaltWire.
Posted: June 6, 2020, 12:30 a.m. | Updated: June 6, 2020, 12:30 a.m. | 7 Min Read
CLARE, NS – Joan Tufts was a health care provider throughout her working life. Caring was built into her profession, but the caring didn’t stop when she retired.
Her first instinct when COVID-19 hit was to find a role for herself that would benefit others.
“When the pandemic struck in our area, there was a feeling of, what could I do?” she said. “You want to do something.”
As the founding member of the Clare Quilters’ Guild – La Guilde Acadienne de Clare – Tufts didn’t have to look far for an opportunity. In fact, the opportunity came to her.
The Nova Scotia Seniors’ Safety Program in her area connected with Tufts to ask if the guild would be willing to make 200 masks for seniors in the community. Tufts responded immediately.
“This is just exactly what I’ve been looking for!” she said.
Guild members started making masks right away, using colourful cotton fabric and elastic from their own personal supplies. One of the volunteers had a collection of floral wire in her stock of craft supplies that she donated to the cause.
If a newer member didn’t have a stash of fabric, others shared.
“They wanted to be part of this too. “That’s the big thing, is to be able to share and help each other out. We had fun connecting that way,” Tufts said. “It would have been nice if we could have met to do this project. We used to meet at the Saulnierville Parish Hall weekly. But we were still in contact. The ladies would come up my driveway and basically throw the masks onto my deck once they were finished. But that was fine; it was a connection, anyway.”
Tufts was already worrying, though.
“I’m thinking, this is not enough,” she said. “This number isn’t going to touch all the population that we have in this area, in terms of seniors.”
The problem was that supplies were running low. The quilters needed to source more elastic and the fabric for the filters.
Tufts put in an application to Nova Scotia Community Links emergency funds to cover these costs, explaining that they wanted to expand what they had done with the Seniors Safety program.
“But all of a sudden there’s no elastic anywhere. It’s just like the flour and the yeast. No flour, no yeast, no elastic!” Tufts said. “I was able to connect with one of our merchants that provides us with supplies, and God love her, she opened her store just to get us elastic. We purchased all that she had, and then I ordered some from Amazon as well.”
With the money the group received from Community Links and supplies in hand, they were able to continue their production.
“So, we made about 300 more,” Tufts matter-of-factly explained.
The guild exists in the first place because of Tufts. One day nine years ago she was sitting at her kitchen table quilting while talking with her husband, and the idea for the quilting guild was born.
“You know I’d like to join a group,” she said to him. “I’d like to have a quilters’ group or something.”
Luckily for Tufts and the community of Clare, her late husband was a wise man. He simply said, ‘Well, get some ladies who might be interested.’
Tufts liked the idea and thought it would be great if she could get “at least four or five around the kitchen table.” She put a call out on the local radio station: “If anybody’s interested, give me a call.”
Tufts got so many calls so quickly that she started to panic.
“I thought, my goodness, what am I going to do?” Tufts said. “I didn’t have enough space!”
The municipality gave her $50 to rent the fire hall for an information session. A few of the callers had offered to help with the organizing, and they formed the first executive.
“We went to the fire hall and 27 ladies showed up and registered right away,” said Tufts. “And then we had to find the space.”
This was in January. By April of that year, they had to cap the membership at 100 because that’s all they could fit in the Saulnierville Parish Hall. Ever since, there has been a waiting list.
“One of the things, when I started this I wanted everybody to be able to afford to come,” Tufts said. “And you know what hobbies are, they’re expensive. So low and behold, we got a grant from the New Horizons program, and we were able to buy sewing machines and all the supplies that are needed.
“So nobody is excluded from coming because they can’t afford it,” she said. “All the supplies are there, except their fabric.”
The guild is an intergenerational group, with members ages ranging from 14 to 81. The guild’s goal is to keep the art of quilting alive, but community service is nothing new to its members. Quilts are made and raffled to support causes ranging from cancer care to mental health. “We make quilts for the people on the Mental Health Unit at the Yarmouth Hospital,” Tufts told me. The group has also gone into the schools to teach kids how to quilt.
“These ladies are wonderful. They’re all volunteers. Anything that you ask them to do.” Tufts said.
Nicole Muise from Saulnierville is a recipient of one of the guild’s masks.
“When Joan gave the mask to me, I felt privileged because I don’t sew!” Muise said. “I use it when I need to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. I feel much more comfortable always having it with me.”
For her part, Tufts enjoys seeing the guild’s masks on her neighbours’ faces when she gets her own groceries, and it’s difficult that they can’t thank her the way they usually would.
“They want to come up to me,” she said. “I know that these people are appreciative. You know, we’re a hugging community, let’s put it that way. Even if they don’t have it on, they’ll show me that they have it in their purse or in their car or whatever, and it makes me feel good.”
Masks were distributed to residents of all three seniors’ complexes in the district, but were also available by request to any senior who asked for one.
“As the restrictions are being lifted, more and more people are coming and saying, I need to go for my bloodwork, can I have a mask?’ They’d like to have that protection,” said Tufts. “The word has gotten around that we do have some on hand. And we don’t charge anything. This is totally free. We don’t want them to pay.”
“I’ll be happy when I can talk about Covid-19 for what it was, and not what it is” Tufts said. “But for now, it’s what it is. We’re more fortunate that some other people. And if at one point more people want masks, we will be ready to make some more. It doesn’t end; it’s a process. It will probably be for a while. We have to be realistic. This is not going away.”
La Guilde Acadienne de Clare’s Facebook page features a favourite quote: “Blankets wrap you in warmth; quilts wrap you in love.” In Clare, handmade face masks are wrapping people in love too.
“I’ll show you one of the masks I made that’s very special,” Tufts said.
During this interview she disappeared from the screen for a moment. When she returned she had a mask in her hands sewn from Nova Scotia tartan fabric.
“When everything came down, I thought, we need a few of these,” she explained. “Proud to be Nova Scotians, for sure.”
Submitted by Dian Day, Regional Coordinator, Nova Scotia Community Links