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This 90-year-old Ont. woman has sewn more than 300 face masks for her community
TORONTO -- Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a 90-year-old Ontario woman has been sewing and giving away her homemade face masks for free.
Jean Pennanen has been single-handily sewing face masks everyday for the past three weeks, making them out of fabrics and materials she already has in her home.
When she’s done sewing for the day, Pennanen brings her walker out to her driveway with a basket full of masks on her seat. Attached is a sign that reads, “Free Masks.”
Since she started sewing for the community of Ridgeway, Ont., a village located 29 kilometres south of Niagara Falls, Pennanen has given away 347 face masks to her neighbours and their families.
“I’ve heard people are selling masks, but that isn’t my idea. I want to do it from the goodness of my heart and when people take one or two (masks) and they wave to me, I just think its pretty neat that people are so grateful,” Pennanen said to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday by phone.
To create the masks, Pennanen said she uses all new fabrics and elastics. It takes roughly 20 minutes to sew one face mask.
While it may seem like hard work, sewing is second nature to her, as she has been a seamstress for more than 50 years. She said she was taught by her mother at the age of 10.
“My mother had very bad eyes and she had eight children, so she would sew holding one eye open while I worked the treadle machine when I was 10 years old. I’m very grateful for my mother that she taught me,” she said.
The mother of five and grandmother of nine lives alone, but said she never feels lonely. Her family often drives by or gives her a call, and the people in her community leave thank you notes by her driveway.
“I haven’t been lonely. This just keeps my mind occupied and it’s very rewarding. I’ve got all kinds of thank you notes and special cards that people leave in envelopes,” she said.
Her daughter Valerie Forbes, who lives just across the street, said she sees how people light up when they see the masks and always try to ask for ways they can help.
“They’ve offered to pay but she declines. But the little notes and ‘thank yous’ lift her spirits everyday and it makes her want to make more,” Forbes said to CTVNews.ca by phone on Wednesday.
Forbes refers to her mother as a “giving lady.”
“Before the face masks she would make coffee bread and deliver it to neighbours or friends. She also knits and crochets,” she said.
While her community remains on lockdown, Pennanen say she will continue to search for new patterns to make facial masks and hopes people will continue their own efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
“People shouldn’t take advantage at a time like this. We better listen to what we’re supposed to do and do it because we want to save as many people as we can,” she said.