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Collingwood woman helps create national production and distribution network for cloth masks

Michelle Bylow is using her career experience in planning large art events to create a network to produce and deliver cloth masks in Canadian communities
Michelle Bylow works on her own set of 100 masks she'll be delivering to Sunset Manor in Collingwood. Contributed photo

A Collingwood resident who has made a career out of coordinating events and organizing talent is applying her skills to help lead a nation-wide effort to sew and distribute masks.

Michelle Bylow, originally from Orillia and now living in Collingwood, runs the Canadian Portion of RAW artists. The organization works with emerging artists and talent throughout Canada by planning and hosting showcases for their talent, from concerts to art shows and everything in between.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to those events, but it didn’t prevent Bylow from mobilizing her network – many of whom are fashion designers.

RAW put a call out to the artist network and received a quick and efficient response. There are approximately 8,000 masks ready for delivery.

But more than making masks, Bylow knew she had to help those making the masks get them where they needed to go, and that was a job suited to RAW Canada's experience.

"We can provide that organizational framework," she said.

She and others in the RAW organization are using their event coordinating skills to connect with health care facilities and frontline workers in the same communities where artists are making masks. A network of volunteer drivers established by RAW is taking the masks to places in the artists' communities where they are needed. It's a national initiative with grassroots execution.

“We didn’t want a mask maker located in Vancouver shipping to Toronto,” she said. “We wanted that community to be supported by that maker.”

Not only is Bylow and the RAW team working with artists in large Canadian cities, they’re working in remote communities as well.

“It’s really humbling to see so many people hear about it and want to participate,” she said.

Some of the masks could even be considered designer fashion.

“There are some really awesome fashion designers making masks and they’re using fabrics they were going to be using for their new lines,” said Bylow.

RAW has set up application forms for people interested in making masks, and provides mask makers with strict instructions on types of material and the pattern to use. They’re challenging the makers to make 100 masks each, but she will take any number of masks and organize a final destination for them.

She is making her own set of 100 masks to be delivered to Sunset Manor in Collingwood.

There have been 113 people indicate they’ve finished 100 masks each. Delivery of the first 8,000 masks is taking place this week in communities across Canada.

“We are so humbled, our goal was 5,000, and we’ve definitely gone above that,” she said.

As word has spread and the pandemic continues, Bylow said she’s seeing a large demand from facilities in need and people wanting to help out, so RAW is planning another wave of mask making and deliveries. The new deadline for mask makers is April 26, and deliveries will be organized for April 27 to 30.

Bylow said they are still looking for mask makers and volunteer couriers for the nation-wide effort, (including in Collingwood and area). She’s also accepting requests from facilities looking for homemade cloth masks.

Interested makers can join by filling out the form here. RAW Canada has created an instructional video for mask makers here.

Interested couriers can fill out the form here.

Facilities in need of masks can fill out the form here

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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