A return to a childhood hobby has helped to raise thousands of dollars for the Vankleek Hill Food Bank.

The Facemasks for Food project started by Vankleek Hill’s Helene Lefebvre has raised more than $5,000 for the food bank over the summer. An avid sewer in her youth, Lefebvre turned back time by breaking out the same 1963 Singer sewing machine she had as a young girl and relearned how to use it.

“I have not sewed in years – the machine was sitting in the basement and I hadn’t touched it,” laughs Lefebvre as she recounts relearning the art of sewing. “There were a few boo-boos at the beginning.”

The inspiration for Lefebvre to go down to the basement and clear the cobwebs off her vintage Singer came from a request from Ottawa-area health-care workers, who were looking for volunteers to make headbands. Once she was up to speed and the Ottawa requests slowed, Lefebvre was being asked by friends and family if she could make masks for them. From there, the idea to make masks and sell them to raise funds for charity was born.

After contacting the Vankleek Hill Food Bank with her idea, Lefebvre set up at Foodland in Vankleek Hill for a day in the second week of June, selling 130 masks and kicking off Facemasks for Food with a $1,300 donation to the food bank. Following that early success, the masks became available at the Broken Kettle in Vankleek Hill and that location alone has sold more than $3,000 worth of masks over the summer. Combined with the money raised from other sale locations at the Vankleek Hill Vineyard and the Creating Centre, the project as a whole topped the $5,000 mark last week. That’s over $500 masks at $10 each – with every penny going to the food bank.

“I purchase my own fabrics, so I am donating the fabric and I’m donating my time,” says Lefebvre, noting she had plenty of time to donate to the project. “I wasn’t going anywhere except for doing groceries, I’m not spending money on gas or doing outings, so why wouldn’t I try to pay it forward?”

The project would not have been possible without support from the businesses who have helped out, along with the Vankleek Hill COVID-19 Support Group on Facebook, where Lefebvre posts photos of masks as they become available. She hopes her donations will help the Vankleek Hill Food Bank through what has been a tough fundraising year.

“I know they are most likely not going to be able to do their food drive this year and I hope that what I am doing will help to see them through.”

Volunteers at the local food bank said the service was much busier than normal from March through May of this year. With the normal annual fundraising activities shelved for 2020 due to the pandemic, the donations from Facemasks for Food have played a big part in filling the gap.

“Up until now she has donated over $5,400, which is just incredible,” commented Mike McGurk, from the Vankleek Hill Food Bank. “What she is doing is helping a lot for us to buy food and supplies we wouldn’t ordinarily have.”

Hélène Lefebvre kicked off her Facemasks for Food project with sales of $1,300 at Foodland back in June.