It started out as one local entrepreneur’s idea, but it has since turned into a community button brigade.

Josée Tom of Vankleek Hill has a business background in fashion design and home décor, but when the COVID-19 emergency struck, she started wondering how she could volunteer to help others.

Tom identified what she called a “pain point.”  She found out that the ears of health care personnel were becoming incredibly sore to the point of bleeding from the constricting pressure from the elastic on the masks they are having to wear at work right now.  She had an idea: to take headbands and sew a button onto them, so the workers had some padding over their ears and to hold the elastic in place.

“They’re tired, they’re scared, they’re in pain; we need to take care of these people,” said Tom.

Health care workers across the region and beyond have been placing individual orders.  Dr. Susan Thorne, Department Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa ordered them for her nurses and office staff.

Tom is not charging a specific rate for the specially adapted headgear but is instead relying on donations from the people who need them to go toward the supplies.

All of the buttons are being sewn on manually, and Tom’s friends from around the community have got involved with the work.  L’Orignal artists Jill Crosby is one of the approximately 25 people who have formed a local button brigade.

She started sewing on buttons using a supply she had at home.  With Tom as the project coordinator, the headbands and bandannas, along with the complete product, are being safely distributed among the helpers in shopping bags left on doorsteps.

“We’re getting them out to the nurses and doctors,” Crosby said.

She added that an order just came in from a First Nations location wanting them for their health care workers.

Lyne Berniquer, who works in the laboratory at Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria has been using the headbands for comfort while wearing a mask at work.

The items are not officially approved by hospital administration for use by staff.  Crosby said medical personnel are ordering them anyway.

“This is nurses and doctors wanting to save their ears,” she said.

As for assembly line efficiency, Crosby said she has been sewing about 40 or more buttons (two per bandanna) each day.

Tom estimated that “a couple hundred” specially modified headbands have been made so far.

The button brigade is hoping to expand the product line shortly.  They want to begin making homemade masks to help address the shortage of manufactured ones.  However, they want to be sure that they have an effective design before starting that phase of their work.

“I feel better; I know somebody’s going to benefit,” said Crosby.

The group is looking for fabric and buttons, and demand is constantly changing. To find out how you can help, call Josee Tom at 613-676-1293.