En Pointe 13- The Mask Project: Giving Back During a Pandemic

Jun 27 2020 | Posted in Blog, En Pointe

The Mask Project: Giving Back During a Pandemic

Since the early days of the Winnipeg Ballet Club, when Gwyneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally were providing free classes to dance-curious Winnipeggers, giving back has always been an important aspect of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Today, some eighty years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, the RWB has found an entirely new way to use its talents for good.

Three months ago, when reports of COVID-19’s arrival in Manitoba were first being confirmed, many Manitobans felt uneasy. Rightfully so, none of us had experienced a pandemic like this in our lifetimes. So much of what was happening was unfamiliar, and many rushed to buy sanitizing agents and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves. For weeks these items were difficult or impossible to obtain as the entire country scrambled to protect themselves from the virus.

It was a surreal couple of weeks. The world had quickly gone from business as usual to a near complete shut-down. Even local businesses with the capacity to do so began to make and donate personal protective equipment. Locally, manufacturers such as Canada Goose dedicated their production chains to creating PPE for frontline workers, and nationally, other ballet companies began to put their wardrobe departments to the task of contributing to the need for PPE. The RWB recognized an opportunity to do the same.

As part of what’s been unofficially dubbed The Mask Project, the RWB’s wardrobe department spent the last six weeks creating more than 1800 masks, the majority of which will be donated to The Winnipeg Boldness Project for families in need.

The Winnipeg Boldness project aims to use social innovation to develop community-driven solutions to solve complex social issues, such as poverty, homelessness, and racism in the North End. They have also found new ways to contribute during the pandemic, and The Mask Project marks the first time they will be able to gift high-quality PPE to those who cannot afford or obtain it.

The RWB employs some of the most talented seamstresses and seamsters in the country, their work has been commissioned by companies all over the world, but The Mask Project was especially exciting. When the Head of Wardrobe at the RWB, Alena Zharska, first heard the idea she was intrigued, it was an excellent way to use their skills to help those in need.

“It made me really happy to know that we can help people,” says Alena. “By donating these masks to people who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to get them, it made us feel like a part of our community. We are very proud to be a part of this project.”

The masks themselves are made of two cotton layers and they come in a variety of patterns and colours. Each mask also features a special fabric filter sewn between the cotton layers, before being stitched and pressed together. The masks are sturdy and capable of withstanding machine washing. They come in packs of three, completely ready to wear (sterilized using steam), and are adjustable to fit a wide range of face shapes.

The first delivery of the masks was done on Friday, June 19th, 2020 with a second delivery planned in July. The masks are now in the process of being distributed to the families through community organizations connected to The Winnipeg Boldness Project.

For now, the RWB wardrobe department will continue to make masks to provide to RWB staff, and explore new designs made for dancers and children to facilitate ease of breathing while moving. There are also plans to create special RWB-branded masks for purchase in the future.

The RWB has called Winnipeg its home for 80 years, and like many Winnipeggers, giving back to the community is an important part of that identity. Although it may take a little creative thinking, the RWB is always looking out for new ways to put its myriad talents to good use.

Starting in July, En Pointe will be moving to a biweekly format. For the summer months, new stories will be published every second week. The RWB hopes you have enjoyed the stories thus far and will continue to read this blog as it evolves to meet the needs of the audience. Thanks for reading.