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How helping the community has helped retired residents during COVID-19

By sharing materials and developing strong friendships, the Sew Sisters were able to take care of the community and each other
Sew Sisters wear T-shirts that read 'keep calm and stitch on'. From left to right: Frances Malyk, Anndalynn Ketellapper, Pat Whitechurch and Jackie Beaton. Supplied photo

Helping the community is a two-way street, and that’s something the Sew Sisters have seen since they dedicated their time to providing personal protective equipment for the community.

Through sewing masks, gowns and caps since April, retired Guelph residents Anndalynn Ketellapper, Jackie Beaton, Pat Whitechurch and Frances Malyk — also known as the Sew Sisters — were able to establish solid friendships, cope during the crisis, take care of their mental health and find a sense of community.

Each member of the group sewed hundreds of caps, masks and gowns for the Guelph General Hospital, St. Mary’s General Hospital, L'Arche Stratford and the overall Guelph community by sharing fabric, thread, elastic and knowledge. 

In total, the group sewed over 1,310 masks, 64 hospital gowns, 565 surgical caps and 50 ear savers. 

“It helped me get through COVID-19,” said Beaton.

“It gave me a purpose to help out the community.”

 All part of the Guelph Curling Club, the ladies didn't know each other well prior to the pandemic. Ketellapper said their story began when she was looking for buttons to sew with ear savers and learned that others in her curling club were also looking for supplies.

By sharing materials and knowledge, the four of them clicked. 

“During the whole process, we’ve been FaceTiming each other, if our sewing machines break, we call each other,” said Ketellapper.

“We’ve also shared so much like fabric, elastic, knowledge. When something goes wrong, we call each other and FaceTime each other.”

Ketellapper said the entire group learned important lessons about people in the community.

“I learned that there are so many people that are so giving in our community and that we’ve really come together and learned a lot from each other,” said Ketellapper. 

“It’s really helped in combating loneliness as well.” 

She said helping the community through this group has been beneficial for their mental well being because the group is collectively working towards one cause.

“It just helps you be more happy I think. It gives us a reason to wake up in the morning,” said Ketellapper. 

Beaton said her husband cuts all the materials for her to sew which makes it a group effort at home. So far, they’ve created over 300 nursing caps and 200 masks.

“I’ve stopped counting,” said Beaton.

As a mother of a nurse, Beaton said she knows what hospital staff go through and felt it was important to do something for health care workers to cheer them up and to let them know that the community is behind them. 

Beaton said the daily activities of helping the community, in turn, helped her because it gave her something to do during the pandemic. 

“I found it very hard being isolated,” said Beaton. 

“It was nice because we had the companionship of each of the girls."

Beaton who recently moved to Guelph from Oshawa said the activity helped her become a part of the community because people were so eager to help. 

With no material to sew, she put out a sign outside her apartment asking for donated materials such as bedsheets, elastics and buttons and received an overwhelming response. 

“I didn't have any material, I did not have a sewing machine, I had nothing,” said Beaton, who was later given a sewing machine from a friend, sheets in excellent condition for gowns and elastics for masks.

She said the initiative just reinstated her belief that people are amazing and giving and want to help.

“I had more than I needed dropped off. In turn, I spread it out for other people,” said Beaton. 

Beaton said the group collaboration reminds her of the Second World War where women came together to knit and sew and the community became very resourceful. 

“My mum used to collect the tinfoil out of cigarette boxes,” said Beaton.

“They would use it for building stuff. They would melt it down and use the aluminum.”

Ketellapper said what keeps the group focused on this task is seeing a need for personal protective equipment in the community. 

“It such a huge need in the community and just something we wanted to do to do our part because there are so many other people doing so much for the COVID-19 cause whether its sewing or the front line workers or the essential workers," said Ketellapper.

“This is something that we felt like we could do because we are sewers. We just felt like we could do this and play a part in just helping.” 

Ketellapper also gifted her group T-shirts with ‘Sew Sisters’ written on them to commemorate this moment in time when the four came together to help others. 

“I told them you guys have enlightened my life and really helped me through COVID by being part of a group and sewing for other people,” said Ketellapper. 


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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