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Mask marketing for mental health

In this Helpers feature we drop in on Iris Lambert at the Rexall Pharmacy in the Root Plaza on Woolwich Street where she sells handmade masks for charity

COVID 19 protocols have forced many businesses and charitable groups to cancel summer fundraising events this year but Iris Lambert, a cashier at the Rexall Pharmacy on Woolwich Street, has designed a way to raise money while promoting safe social behaviour.

“Every so often we do a fundraiser for the Rexall Care Network,” said Lambert. “In the past we’ve done book sales and bakes sales and we ask people to give money at the till but this year because of COVID we couldn’t do a book sale or a bake sale.”

She had already made masks for herself, her husband and her son.

“I was wearing a mask before it was mandated to do so,” she said. “I found that Guelph General Hospital had instructions on their website on how to make masks.”

She altered the pattern to come up with her own design.

“I tried what they suggested, and I didn’t like it,” she said. “I found it moved up and down on my nose and didn’t stay where it was supposed to. So, I did my own edition. I added two pleats up here and one at the chin so it would hold better.”

When family and friends started asking her to make masks for them it gave her an idea.

“This was a more appropriate fundraiser,” she said. “Everyone needs masks. I just asked if I could make some masks and sell them here in place of the bake sale. We got permission from head office to do it.”

Lambert has sold more than 400 masks and raised more than $2,500 since she started making them on May 22.

“All of the money we’re raising for this fundraiser is going to the Canadian Mental Health Association,” she said. “I always try to contribute somehow to whatever fundraiser the Rexall Caring Network is supporting.”

Some of her best customers are her own workmates.

“I don’t even know any more how many I have bought,” said Amber Shutsa, assistant manager at Rexall in the Root Plaza. “I bought 15 for the soccer club and I have probably bought 12 for myself.”

Cosmetician Sandra Bracken has bought seven.

“They are all different,” said Bracken. “She’s fantastic.”

Lambert displays the masks, each in a hermetically sealed bag, at her workstation and word has quickly spread.

“Even when Iris isn’t here, people come in asking if the lady that is making the masks is here today,” said Shutsa. “She literally, could have a full-time job making the masks. Of course, she works here then goes home and donates all of her time making them.”

Lambert uses many different fabric patterns and will take custom orders. She has designed masks for small children right up to large adults and in the beginning she found it hard to find enough material to keep up with requests.

“I started off using all the stuff I had at home because Lens Mill was closed and that is my main source for fabric,” she said. “It was tricky at first. The day masks became mandatory for all commercial places we were just swamped with people looking for masks. I sold out fast.”

Lambert is an experienced sewer and likes to joke about starting her own designer mask label.

“It’s a hobby,” she said. “I used to make my own clothes, but I am too busy making masks now. Would you like to see our latest collection?”

It is a lot of work, but Lambert sees it as a labour of love.

“She has told me a couple times that’s it, I’m done, no more,” said Shutsa..”Then she comes in the next day and says, ‘Look I got new fabric’.”

People hoping to buy a Lambert-original mask should get their orders in soon because the fundraising campaign officially ends on June 30.

“The fundraiser is over on Tuesday,” said Lambert. “At least, that’s the theory.”