NORTH BAY -- With over 12,000 masks completed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mother-daughter duo Rose Belanger and Pauline Brown have no plans on turning off their sewing machines just yet.

"As long as the pandemic is here and there’s a need for a mask, yes, we will continue to donate everything that we have," Belanger said.

The pair started creating masks last year in an effort to keep family members safe and stay busy during a challenging time. However, as the pandemic continued and the demand increased, so did their supply.

"Back when the pandemic started, there wasn’t enough (personal protective equipment) for everybody," Brown said. "So we were making the PPE for all the front-line workers. They had their hospital-grade masks, but when they left the hospital they need to be protected as well. So these masks were for when they went shopping or anytime they left the hospital."

She said they also gave masks to front-line workers free of charge at the beginning of the pandemic and decided that their generosity wouldn’t stop there.

"We started off with delivering coffee and donuts. And, you know, we did $1,500 for all the police stations, fire stations, all the pharmacies and then we did another $1,500 of coffee and donuts that went to every department in the hospital," Brown said. "So we started off with that. Since afterwards, you know, there’s a lot of charities that couldn’t generate any revenues, so we started making masks and donating them to local charities."

"We’ve been at it a year now and we’ve donated enough to make $25,000," Belanger said.

Several local charities have benefited from the proceeds of the homemade masks including the North Bay Crisis Centre, North Bay and District Humane Society, Lippi Nipissing and the North Bay Food Bank. As well as the Ronald McDonald House and Children’s Aid Society.

"I’m on old-age pension and I don’t need any extra money," Belanger said. "It’s always nice to have, but I thought it would be better to donate to other people."

Brown said donation recipients are always very thankful.

"Anytime we come up with a $500 cheque to anybody, they’re just so grateful," she said. "Nobody’s able to raise any money. A lot of these charities do need money, they need the money to feed children.

Brown said they sell the masks in five different locations in the city and any location that sells the mask gets to pick the local charities.

Right now, the pair has over 1,000 masks ready for purchase and enough material to make 3,000 more if needed.

"My daughter brings in all of the material and I start with the cutting," explained Belanger, stating that it used to take 30 minutes per masks but with practice, they’ve got it down to 20 minutes. "It takes quite a while. Especially some patterns are squares and you’ve got to make sure that everything is actually equal and I get to the sewing machine, then the ironing board, and the sewing machine and back to the ironing board for the pleating and then it goes upstairs to my daughter, which she does the finishing and the marketing."

There are even four different sizes, extra filters and accessories available to ensure the best fit.

"When we first started, a nurse had sent me a video and she was explaining on the masks that I should be manufacturing," Brown said. "It’s the same type that you get in the hospital for your disposable mask and the reason is the pleating is down. So if you have any droplets that come onto your face or onto the mask, it will roll down. If you have pleats that are up or a 3rd degree, if you do get any droplets, well they sit in there and they can breathe and breed inside the mask. So you want something that rolls down, covers your nose, across your face and under your chin so it goes right across."

With hundreds of designs to choose from, the duo is just happy they can help out the community in more ways than one.

"It’s just unreal, it’s just a good feeling," Belanger said.

"We needed something to do. And in doing so, and donating all back to local charities, it made us feel good," Brown said. "We’re very grateful that we were able to do something during the whole entire pandemic and at the same time we were able to give back to a lot of other people."