CREATIVE COLLAB: Alison from Rotary Club of Irymple modelling their handmade reusable masks, for sale now. Photo: supplied.

By Jennifer Gadsden*

How the challenge of a pandemic can inspire new ways to stay connected for a community project.

We have all been experiencing the isolation of COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing – no face-to-face meetings, regular hand sanitising, wearing facemasks, no handshakes, no hugging, limitations on gatherings, closure of gyms, restaurants, cafes, non-essential services and a myriad of changes to our workplaces for those businesses still operating.

In order to stay connected, we have adapted to using online platforms, and for many people this has meant using Skype, Zoom, Facetime and other meeting programs for the first time, an interesting new challenge in itself.

An online meeting can be quite straightforward if you are meeting to discuss issues and resolutions, but imagine the challenge of co-ordinating a hands-on community project and demonstrating how to construct and sew triple-layered face masks with everyone sitting in completely separate locations?

Even in separate rooms, great things can be achieved, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin have shown us through decades of their inspiring musical partnership.

They each worked separately and contributed their individual skills (Taupin wrote lyrics and poetry; Elton John composed the music) and when these separate elements eventually came together, created a musical language to share with the world that touched people’s hearts.

Even during COVID-19 and despite social distancing, there are still great opportunities for teamwork, as shown by members of the Rotary Club of Irymple who have stepped up to support our local community through this current health crisis by creating washable, re-usable, environmentally-friendly face masks.

The project has involved all the members of the Rotary Club of Irymple in different ways, with everyone contributing their skills and playing an active role – from logistics, coordination, teaching, fabric cutting, sewing, overlocking, construction, quality control, marketing, sales and promotion.

Everyone has been able to contribute to the project. The Face Masks Project has been coordinated by Col and Mandy Gowers, with construction of the masks being carried out by a dedicated team of talented club members and volunteers.

The masks have been made to DHHS specifications, and are constructed with a triple layer of fabric, including a non-woven interfacing filler layer.

This project has been made possible with generous donations of materials to make the first 100 masks.

The face masks can be purchased at Hammerton’s Engraving. There are a range of fabrics to choose from, and all proceeds from the sale of these masks goes to support local community projects through the Rotary Club of Irymple.

The Rotary Club of Irymple has a proud history of helping communities through difficult times, whether responding to the need to replace fences following devastating bush fires, fundraising towards the Farmers Drought Appeal, or rallying volunteers to help create washable, environmentally-friendly face masks during a pandemic.  This club also has a proud history of sponsoring local youth to provide a large array of opportunities – attending the National Youth Science Forum, participation in the MASP Kokoda Youth Trek, yearly school awards for the VET Student at Irymple Secondary College, the Sam Dichiera Award for the most promising apprentice at Mildura Secondary College, Incoming & Outgoing Long Term Youth Exchange (which is currently in recess due to COVID-19), Rotary Youth Programme of Enrichment which aims to foster young adults awareness of their roles in social responsibility and community, and Health of the River Program, to name just a few.

The challenge for all of us during these difficult times is how to remain connected during a time of social distancing, and how to achieve teamwork in separate locations whilst remaining connected to our local community.

* Jennifer Gadsden is a local artist, writer and community volunteer.