Stepping Up

When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet.

Brock Diachuck does most everything with his feet. He trained his feet to prepare suppers, write letters, draw pictures, clap along to songs and shred paper at Cosmo Industries, known to be the biggest paper shredder in Saskatoon. Then in late March, as COVID-19 spread across Saskatchewan, Brock wanted to really put his feet to good use.

Brock is a Core Member of L’Arche Saskatoon, which was founded in 2008 and now has two homes, including the Alma House where Brock lives. Both homes have activity groups, with a vision of “making friends, making art and making peace.” During the pandemic, that vision, for a moment, seemed difficult to fulfill.

In an effort to contain the spread of the highly infectious respiratory disease, L’Arche Saskatoon, in coordination with the global L’Arche community, made the difficult decision to lockdown their houses. As all of society had to adapt to the developing disease, so too did Brock. Work at Cosmo’s was indefinitely put on hold, as were visits with friends and family, Wednesday night prayer and Sunday morning Mass. The latter was a particular blow as after Mass Brock and his friends used to love discovering new burger restaurants (though none usurped the crown from his beloved Burger King). Brock only went beyond his backyard for long drives, where he had to enjoy the fresh spring air through a car window. And soon enough, Brock was back home, in lockdown mode.

Those of us who are not working on the front lines have wondered what we can do to battle this global pandemic while in isolation. A feeling of helplessness has spread as rapidly as the disease itself. But L’Arche Saskatoon has taken action. When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, stated that non-medical masks limit the transmission of COVID-19, many large clothing companies began crafting masks. L’Arche Saskatoon’s artsy residents also got to work. 

To nobody’s surprise, Brock quickly mastered the sewing pedal. While he works the pedal, he instructs another craftsperson on how to move the fabrics. He gets them up to speed in fifteen minutes then puts the pedal to the metal. 

Out came the fabrics, scissors, thread and needles. Some Core Members cut fabric down to size while others learned how to work a sewing machine. Brock wanted to contribute using two of his greatest assets: his feet. 

A sewing machine’s foot pedal controls the machine’s speed and using varying speeds is essential in sewing. For instance, getting a seam started requires more speed. Some tasks require less speed. A sewing machine doesn’t necessarily require a foot pedal — one can simply flip a machine on and off — but sewing without a pedal is like driving through a bustling city on cruise control. To say the least, a good sewer needs a good pair of feet. 

To nobody’s surprise, Brock quickly mastered the sewing pedal and joined the assembly line of mask-making volunteers. While he works the pedal, he instructs another craftsperson on how to move the fabrics. These masks are made of two different fabrics, in matching or contrasting colours, whatever the designers think stylish. Both fabrics are sewn together, while adding elastic ear straps on each side, and then hemmed for a comfortable fit. Occasionally a fresh pair of hands steps in to help with the sewing. Brock’s proved adept at teaching others how to help sew. He gets them up to speed in fifteen minutes then puts the pedal to the metal. 

There’s no precise count on how many non-medical masks Brock and the rest of his friends at L’Arche Saskatoon have made these past few weeks, but the number runs in the hundreds. That’s hundreds of people preventing the spread of an infectious disease. That’s hundreds of people who can go shopping for groceries and feel safe. Some of their masks made it to a care home, full of people particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. A mask of theirs also made it to a front line worker from the Lloydminster Hospital, fifty kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, who uses the mask to go shopping while protecting those around her. More of their masks still made their way from Saskatoon to the door of L’Arche Calgary. 

Brock and his friends also made masks for their own personal use, to improve their own lives during the pandemic. If everyone wears a mask, and follows other procedures like safe distancing, friends and loved ones are able to visit. Large group gatherings are still not possible in person, but they’ve been made virtually possible thanks to everyone’s new friend, Zoom. L’Arche Saskatoon holds their Wednesday prayer nights online, with a crowd of thirty. Christopher, a Core Member and one of Brock’s best friends, who moved back in with his family to self-isolate, hosted a Passover Seder online. Brock had his thirty-third birthday in a chat room, complete with a cake from Dairy Queen. Zoom has largely been praised for allowing people to remain social and safe. L’Arche Saskatoon deserves similar praise for their masks. And the speed at which Brock and his friends are making them, they too could easily lay claim to the verb “zoom.” 

Chat rooms and masks, however, cannot replace all the things Brock loved to do before the lockdown. He’s dreaming about recycling at Cosmo’s, Sunday Masses and burger discoveries. Nobody knows when life will go back to “normal” but thanks to front line workers, and those like Brock doing their part, we may beat COVID-19 sooner than later. Those who want to help fight the pandemic should know that simply staying home is immensely helpful. If you think you can do more, check on your immuno-compromised neighbours, reach out to a friend in need or pick up some fabric and a sewing kit and make non-medical masks. If you’re not sure how to sew, get in touch with L’Arche Saskatoon’s Core Members. They’ll give you instructions, over Zoom, and maybe, one day soon, in person.

A Hero Behind the Scenes

Beyond firefighters, medical staff, social workers and police officers, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that there are even more heroes among us. Truck drivers, grocery store clerks, cooks and couriers now rightfully hold an esteemed place in our collective consciousness as they put their health at risk to keep society functioning.

From Hyderabad to Lethbridge Who Would’ve Thought?

After Roop Chittineni finished high school in his hometown of Hyderabad, India he moved to Southern Ontario to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. He liked exercising and thought that if he learned more about the human body he could use that knowledge to elevate everyone’s life experience.

Memory Box: Pinewood Floorboards

What does a set of 1940s floorboards have to teach us about COVID living?

A Light Ahead

The social distancing caused by the pandemic has been trying. Thankfully, aside from those who have donated their time, money and ingenuity to help L’Arche, there are the health care workers, grocery store clerks and all those on the front line who are helping the L’Arche community get through this crisis. With their help, it won’t be long until the Gathering Place opens again and the community starts making new memories.

Second Life

Kris first met Joanna in L’Arche London, Ontario. She encouraged Kris to join L’Arche, and he did. They lived and worked side-by-side for six years until Kris moved to Nova Scotia. Still, they managed to see each other a few times a year and occasionally called one another about matters of life and faith. But this call was different.

The Gift of Dance

Dance is a profound gift; it’s an artistic expression, a mood enhancer, a workout, a surefire way to impress a date and a form of magic. A dancer can transform into a flower, a lion or their favourite pop star. Above all, dance is an act of joy. (We dare you to wiggle around for a minute and not feel happier than you were before.) The gift of dance, and all it provides, has found its way into L’Arche.

Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.