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Scrub bags help health-care workers handle COVID-19

Riviera Steinberg, 14, sews scrub bags for healthcare workers on COVID-19 floors at Calgary-area hospitals in her spare time.
Riviera Steinberg
Riviera Steinberg, 14, sews scrub bags for health-care workers on COVID-19 floors at Calgary-area hospitals in her spare time. (Photo courtesy Faye Steinberg)

A young girl has switched her focus from sewing pillowcases to stitching together scrub bags for nurses and physicians fighting COVID-19.

Riviera Steinberg, a 14-year-old Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School student, began sewing pillowcases for troubled youth fleeing domestic abuse in 2018. The idea was that although they might be displaced with foster homes or shelters, they would always have one thing that was their own and could bring them hope.

She put a call out in the fall of that year for fabric and received a number of donations, as well as an entire lot of material worth about $1,000 for just $100, and was making pillowcases in her spare time for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary.

While on spring break this year, Steinberg and her mom, Faye, were on social media and noticed a message from a quilting store owner in Claresholm, who mentioned her daughter was a nurse on the COVID-19 floor at Rockyview General Hospital and they were in need of scrub bags.

“They needed bags so they could take off the clothes they were working in and put them directly in the bag without bringing the germs into their homes, and they could just wash the bag with the clothes inside to clean them,” said Steinberg.

With her stores of fabric from making pillowcases, Steinberg decided this would be a good project to take on in support of health-care workers, and an opportunity for her to get involved in helping with the COVID-19 crisis.

Her material included a variety of patterns and colours, giving her a variety to work with she hopes will bring some joy to the people who use the bags after a long day.

It took a while to get going, because the bags are a little more involved than the pillowcases.

“I had to craft my own pattern, since the message that came out didn’t have an original pattern to follow, so after creating my own pattern I realized it was going to be a little more difficult than simply two rectangles together and making a pillowcase,” said Steinberg.

Finishing seams and adding a drawstring to close the bag takes a little more time, but the more she sews the quicker it gets. In the past three weeks she’s made almost 20 scrubs bags in her spare time, after attending her virtual STS classes every day and on weekends.

Even 12-year-old brother Gable gets in on the work, cutting ribbons for the drawstrings.

“At first I had to convince him a little bit, but I think he enjoyed helping me out and kind of getting involved,” said Steinberg. “And also he keeps me a little bit of company, because it takes quite some time.”

So far she and her mom have delivered 12 bags, and they intend to continue taking lots of 10 or 12 at a time to their drop-off location at Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel in Calgary, where the bags are left in a Rubbermaid container outside the church and then taken to hospitals for healthcare workers to use.

They have included a note in each bag introducing Steinberg to the nurses and doctors who receive them, complete with photos of her at the sewing machine and Faye’s email address in case anyone wants to reach out.

“We did get an email from one of the nurses,” said Faye. “She said she felt like it was Christmas morning, she was so excited. We tried to use Rivi’s best fabric – some of it was really pretty.

“They were just so touched and thrilled, which was really special considering they’re the ones putting their lives at risk every day, and here they are so appreciative of this small little gesture.”

Now, other people in their circles are getting involved and asking if they can sew some bags as well – and the answer is always yes.

“When I asked how many bags are too many, they said, ‘There aren’t going to be too many – there aren’t going to be enough,’” said Faye.

A friend of hers wanted to start sewing but didn’t have a machine, so Faye took her mother’s machine to her girlfriend’s doorstep, along with a few bolts of bedsheet-type fabric that had been donated to Steinberg’s pillowcase project.

“It think this is definitely a win-win,” said Faye. “It provides some support for the nurses and I think it really gives people something positive to focus on.”

For Steinberg, it’s a way of helping out those in need but also managing her own mental health and anxiety.

“For me, sewing is a really good way to relieve the anxiety that I feel on a day-to-day basis, and especially with what’s going on in the world right now it’s been a great way to not only help people, but help myself feel more at-ease with what’s going on around me,” said Steinberg.

Anyone interested in learning more about the scrub bags project can reach out to the Steinbergs at [email protected].

Krista Conrad,

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