Volunteers sew hundreds of headbands to help ease strain on health-care workers’ ears

On the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the days are long and stressful. Despite working with a close-knit and supportive team, one day Felicia Letourneau, a nurse at Lakeshore General Hospital, started her shift feeling discouraged.

Then, she noticed a bag full of gifts for everyone in her unit — headbands, with tags that read “Headbands for Heroes” — and that lifted her spirits.

“I’ve been a surgical practical nurse for 12 years and I’ve never felt so appreciated,” Letourneau said.

For many frontline health-care workers, wearing masks for their entire shift, every shift, is a strain on their skin, especially on their ears.

But Letourneau and hundreds of her colleagues in Montreal are a little more comfortable these days, thanks to these handmade headbands.

The headbands have buttons sewn on, which hold the mask’s elastic ear loops in place, avoiding any contact with or strain on ears.

The words on the tag are especially touching, Letourneau said.

“It reminds us what we’re doing and that we are heroes … working hard.”

The people behind the headbands

Volunteers, part of a Montreal Facebook group called Operation MTL Covid 19 – Virtual Helping Hands, are behind the headband-making initiative.

Sabrina Maryse Stoute, a senior nurse working for a pharmaceutical company, started the Facebook group.

She remembers her days as an emergency room nurse and the pain she experienced wearing masks for extended periods of time.

She wanted to find a way to help friends and former colleagues who are still on the frontlines, so she did some research online and learned that patterns exist for “Headbands for Heroes” and initiatives exist in other provinces and countries.

Each delivery includes a variety of colours and sizes and enough headbands for every worker in the department – from housekeeping staff to physicians, said organizer Sabrina Maryse Stoute. (Submitted by Sabrina Maryse Stoute)

The only problem? Stoute can’t sew.

So she recruited two friends, Kristy Westlake, an elementary school teacher, and Tanya D’Amato, a customer service administrator, and they put the call out on social media, looking for more volunteers.

“They just came running,” Stoute said.

The Facebook group now has more than 1,400 members. Stoute is co-ordinating 30 women of all ages who are sewing headbands for Montreal health-care workers every day.

“They’ve been producing bands in record time … 654 headbands in 12 days, which is incredible,” she said.

For some of the volunteers, sewing is a distraction from loneliness and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I say ‘busy hands, calm minds,'” Stoute said.

Sabrina Maryse Stoute started the Facebook group Operation MTL Covid 19 – Virtual Helping Hands and runs it with friends Kristy Westlake and Tanya D’Amato. (Submitted by Sabrina Maryse Stoute)

All the volunteers involved in sewing must be self-isolating, with the exception of buying groceries once a week, and they must have no symptoms, Stoute said.

Stoute is limiting her travel, so all the sewing volunteers must live relatively close to her home, on Montreal’s West Island.

She has no physical contact with volunteers — they wave to her from their windows when she collects the headbands from their porches.

Stoute takes charge of dropping off materials, picking up headbands, and making deliveries to hospitals.

When Stoute arrives at a hospital with a delivery, even though everyone is wearing masks, “you can still see in their eyes, the smile, the happiness and the gratitude.”

Headbands in high demand

Orders for the headbands keep pouring in from various departments at several Montreal hospitals and from long-term care facilities.

The group is currently preparing headbands for two CHSLDs, the emergency department at the Jewish General Hospital, the psychiatry department at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the COVID-19 unit at the Lakeshore General Hospital.

The Facebook group has also received more than $1,700 in donations, money that goes toward purchasing elastics, buttons and other materials, and has bought meals for more than 140 health-care workers so far.

“They’re taking care of our community, so our community needs to take care of them,” Stoute said.

Constantly wearing masks is a strain on healthcare workers’ skin, especially their ears. A Montreal community is helping ease that pain by sewing hundreds of “Headbands for Heroes” and delivering them to hospitals. Daybreak’s Shari Okeke brings us that story. 12:02

Once the crisis is over, Stoute says she’s looking forward to meeting the women working so hard sewing the headbands every day.

“I haven’t met any of them in person and I just want to give them a hug,” she said.

“They are heroes as much as anyone.”

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