Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is not only about protecting one's own health, but also that of those around you.
That's also the idea behind Sudbury Steam Cleaners' new cloth mask initiative, where for every mask purchased, the company will donate another to someone in need.
Earlier this week, Sudbury Steam Cleaners launched its One-for-One program to meet the demand for alternative personal protective equipment for the public and provide employment for some of its dedicated staff.
This will be the first time since the business opened in 1901 that the long-standing Nickel City dry cleaners will manufacture and sell cloth masks.
Like many businesses during this time of uncertainty, Sudbury Steam Cleaners have been forced to adjust, said Chris Haddad, fourth-generation co-owner.
“The masks are honestly a first for us. We just saw the opportunity to do something positive,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Since the outbreak, Haddad said the family-owned and operated business had been trying to think of a way to get involved in the community response to COVID-19 in some capacity.
So when Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, recommended the use of cloth face masks for members of the general public as added protection against the virus, the decision was easy.
With this in mind, Haddad said it's important customers understand that although the masks are made of quality material, these are non-medical masks and are only effective if used properly.
For the protection of customers, all masks include an information sheet on how to safely use and clean the product.
Sudbury Steam Cleaners has hired back four seamstresses to assist in the project thus far, said Haddad. More will be brought back as required.
Generally, the company’s seamstresses are responsible for alterations and repairs, he said, but are more than capable of taking on this challenge. Every one of their seamstresses has worked with them for a minimum of five years, but the majority of them have been with the company for upwards of 10.
One employee in particular, that Haddad endearingly calls Nona, has been a seamstress for 45 to 50 years, 30 of which have been spent working for his family-owned and operated business. So needless to say, the mask-making is in experienced hands.
“We treat our staff and everybody like family, seeing a lot of them go when this initially happened was hard,” he said.
“It hurt. Being able to bring a few back is awesome."
Sudbury Steam Cleaners had seven active depots across the city, but has been forced to close all but their main downtown location in response to the pandemic. This, however unfortunate, has allowed them to give each seamstress an isolated place to complete their work.
Every mask will then be professionally cleaned, before being sealed and transferred to customers contact-free, said Haddad. They are professional dry cleaning and laundry service after all.
The team intends to support as many community groups and non-profit organizations as they can with the mask giveaway, but Haddad said they have yet to decide who this will be.
Customers are encouraged to request the group of their choosing with their order or recommend a group through the Sudbury Steam website no purchase necessary.
Sudbury Steam Cleaners can't guarantee that every request will be fulfilled but community submissions will help them determine the most effective distribution possible, he said.
They intend to source all material locally to the best of their ability and placed their first order with Sew Local Stitch Lounge earlier this week.
Whether this will be their exclusive supplier depends both on the request made by clients and the store’s product availability, said Haddad, but their “first call will be there.”
After only four days of production, Haddad said it is too soon to say whether Sudbury Steam Cleaners would continue to manufacture products such as cloth masks following the pandemic, but nothing is off the table.
“At the end of the day, one thing that is great that has come out of this is people see the need to stay local, even when it comes to manufacturing,” he said.
Sudbury Steam Cleaners’ cloth face masks are available for $13.50 each with special pricing available for bulk orders upon request. Shipping is offered for a $2 fee anywhere within 25 kilometres of its downtown headquarters.
For quality and production purposes, the only design One-for-One seamstresses will be using will be that approved by the Michael Garron Hospital of the Toronto East Network, said Haddad.
Each mask will have a polyester outing, 100 per cent cotton lining, elastic for the ear loops and include a pouch for the wearer to insert the filter of their choosing.
Orders can be placed online, over the phone or through email.
While locations have been closed to the public, Sudbury Steam Cleaners has been deemed an essential service and as such continues to provide for the public through curbside pick-up and drop-off in addition to offering collection and delivery to an individual’s home.
They will also be continuing its corporate services, providing much-needed sanitation to groups such as the Greater Sudbury Police Service and emergency personnel.
“Everybody is trying to be a bit cleaner and we’re going to provide that service.”
Find more information on Sudbury Steam Cleaners' One-for-One initiative here.