Volunteer effort caps off a huge response to Cabrini Outreach emergency face mask appeal

When masks were mandated in Melbourne, Cabrini Outreach organised a 48 hour emergency face mask appeal aimed to raise funds to supply masks for all clients and their families of Cabrini Outreach asylum seeker health programs. There was just one problem: Most fabric mask suppliers were out of stock due to the overwhelming community demand.

The support of Pamela Wood, Cabrini’s Volunteer Services Manager, was enlisted and she reached out to the Cabrini volunteers. Tanja Radman was one of the first to put up her hand.

Tanja knows a thing or two about sewing. She volunteers in the Cabrini Brighton Day Oncology Department and in her spare time sews for the Cabrini Wig Room. With her own store, Queen of Fabric, she knew her skills would come in handy for the project.

“Well, with the goal of 2000 plus masks, three volunteers sewing was not going to cut it”, Pamela recalled. Pamela used a community page to bring together Cabrini volunteers with others from the Albert Park community. All up around 25-30 people took up the sewing challenge and waited for their delivery from Tanja, who cut and packed the materials into bundles.

mask collage

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on clients of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub. With no access to government income support, many are relying on material aid from welfare agencies to survive. The generosity of our volunteer sewing champions means our clients can safely leave their homes to seek out health care and emergency supplies, without fear of exposing themselves to the virus or receiving a fine they would not be able to pay.

This response, at a time when so many are already dealing with immense challenges, was particularly touching. As Tanja reflected, “The fact of the matter is our community has shown what can be achieved when you come together to help the most vulnerable”.

We asked our wonderful volunteers why they decided to participate and this is what they had to say:

"What a great project to be involved in. When Tanja, sent out an email asking for mask making volunteers, who could not put their hand up? It’s kept me out of mischief and hopefully the masks will keep Covid from the children who will wear them (and I hope they won’t notice the wobbly stitching!). Well done Tanja and well done Cabrini Outreach."

"When I saw a post asking for sewers on our neighbourhood Facebook group I volunteered my time straight away. To me it was a great way to put a skill I have to good use for our community. If we all look after each other we are all stronger." 

"I am out of work and locked down but finding new projects helps to keep me busy."

"Stage 3 and 4 lockdowns have hit every resident in Victoria however it has been really encouraging to see so many people helping in whichever way they can. Whether it be food donation, money donation, sewing masks, or a lot of friends are on the front line working in the health departments –we are all in this together.

"I got involved with the masks as I miss my volunteering for Cabrini. I have been a Cabrini volunteer since 2011 so I felt like a major part of me had been taken away. I do not have a sewing machine so with my husband’s help we cut out 3400 individual pieces of elastic for the masks."

"To be honest, I cannot pin point a specific reason for doing this.  I saw a neighbourhood call out and thought that I could contribute to my community in a positive way. I have actually enjoyed doing this as it brought about a calm to my otherwise busy schedule.  (I am a VCE teacher also with 2 young children learning from home). My husband thought I was crazy. I am glad that I could do something useful.  Sometimes you need no reason."

"I joined in to help as it was something I could do at home in isolation, the frustration of not being able to do much was the driver for me. As we are supposed to stay home it limits our ability to help, so for me this was a practical way to get involved. I really believe if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem."

"I put my hand up as I have been wanting to help in some shape or form in this pandemic, but didn’t know how or where to begin. This was the perfect opportunity and as I had been sewing a few masks for family and friends, sewing 100 masks just gave me more experience! If our masks can give those for whom they are intended a sense of safety, protection and being cared for, it will have been worth the late nights sewing."

Thanks to our incredible sewing community all masks have been made, collected and are being distributed among clients of Cabrini Outreach asylum seeker health programs.  

Read more about how our community response at cabrinioutreach.com.au/news/ or find Cabrini Outreach on Facebook.