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Thorold craft show exhibitors ease nurses' pain

What began as a way to protect her fiancé—a front line transport truck driver—quickly morphed into a substantial sewing stint for Beverley Interisano. Likewise, Leta Virag helped health workers during a critical phase in the COVID-19 crisis.

While many were disappointed when Thorold’s popular annual Spring Art & Craft Show was cancelled last month due to COVID-19, two regular show exhibitors switched their sewing talents from their regular creations to making hundreds of masks and scrub caps for front line health care workers.

Annual craft show organizer Cathy Henderson said Interisano makes teddy bears from fur coats, “and continues to support Beaverdams Church by making critters/bears” to raise funds to renovate the historic church.

Well-known for her bear business (Bears 4 You), “I had originally started making them (masks) for my fiancé, as he is a front line transport truck driver, picking up and delivering essential paper and cleaning supplies for GTFRENCH” (Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener and Niagara area), Interisano told ThoroldNews.

At a time when health workers were desperate for PPE, the versatile seamstress created masks made of three to four layers with a filter pocket, and a wire across the top for fitting.

“A large parking lot pickup of graciously donated quilting fabrics,” which is “the recommended fabric,” according to Interisano, was delivered to her by a friend in Burlington, “who is also a front line home-care worker.” 

The friend “only requested that I continue to help and donate, which was a no-brainer.”

“After much research and testing of patterns," she began creating three styles and four sizes, from chldren's masks to men’s extra large.

Fortunately, she had ample additional supplies stashed away, such as elastic, threads, vinyl-wrapped wire, and filter fabrics, enabling her to create and donate more than 100 masks.

“I just wanted to do my part as a seamstress. I said I would continue to make them for anyone who was in need. I have put the word out on my personal facebook and through emails to all my nurse friends who are still on the front line."

Interisano’s generosity spread as far as Turner Valley, Alberta. 

“My best friend’s daughter is a nurse and they didn’t have any PPE,” she explained. “She contacted me and I did up a parcel of masks for her family and extras for her to give out. After I disinfected and individually packaged, then labelled the sizes, I shipped them out Expedite Parcel.”

They experienced a slight delay when a worker at the post office terminal contracted the virus, she added, “so it had to be completely disinfected, the building and all mail and parcels,” Interisano explained.

In addition to assisting the Friends of Beaverdams Church, her creations have been featured at the annual Christmas and Spring craft shows, “almost since they began.” When Thorold celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812, Interisano was commissioned to create replica period outfits.

Likewise, Leta Virag, a retired Port Colborne nurse, whose “Smock It" dresses and designs appear regularly at the Thorold Art & Craft Show, made more than 250 masks for front line workers, at last count.

She’s also the manager of Niagara Crafters in Port Colborne, and her scrub caps feature buttons on the sides for hooking masks onto instead of behind nurses’ ears, which can become “raw” after wearing masks for extended shifts.

“Jane Nigh, manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Port Colborne is also making the face shields for the hospitals,” Virag told Thorold News. “I have to give her all the credit for starting this. She contacted me through one of my crafters.”

“It has definitely been a group effort,” she said, “to help fill an order for over 6,000 of these for nurses throughout Ontario. It has been fun doing this and has given us all a great feeling to know we are helping in a small way during these devastating times.”

Like Interisano, Virag pitched in when masks were critically needed and difficult to obtain.

“The group I am sewing for said the demand has decreased considerably,” she explained. “At this present time, we are making them only when the need arises."

Henderson said that both these seamstresses, as well as Marlene Hamilton, another regular Thorold craft show exhibitor who made countless masks for nurses, "will be in the Thorold Christmas Show, Nov. 21 and 22, this year, if all goes well."