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Mascarillas Algeciras: The Relentless Mask-Making Volunteers Fighting COVID19

Rosario Pérez | Photos: Fran Montes

To date, the hard-working volunteers at “Mascarillas Algeciras” (“Algeciras Masks”) have produced over 23,200 masks and other protective equipment to aid in the battle against COVID19. The team celebrated their success with a suitably social distanced lunch.

Since the State of Alarm in Spain was stood down, meetings and gatherings have once again become the norm; mainly among friends and families who have been separated for quite some time.

Without a doubt, one of the most special get-togethers took place at the Alborán Hotel in Algeciras on the 5th of July – where Reach caught up a good number of the 100 or so volunteers of “Mascarillas Algeciras”… An emotional and well-deserved celebration which, of course, took place in compliance with the new COVID19 health and safety measures.

“We wanted to get to know each other and organise ourselves as soon as possible. Not all of us could be there, but I’m sure we’ll have more opportunities…” It was the difficult fight against the coronavirus which, three and a half months ago, brought together this enthusiastic group of women, who had previously not met each other. Between the 19th and 21st of March, this philanthropic endeavour was organised via Facebook, WhatsApp, and phone; with the goal of donating masks to those who needed them the most.

This initiative was the brainchild of veteran seamstress, Toñi Esteban, and her daughter Raquel Collell, who helped shape the idea which would end up developing into a true online charitable network made up of hundreds of pairs of hands at the ready to help. At the beginning not all volunteers knew how to sew, and others had only just bought a sewing machine for the first time in their lives, but the result is that today every member is an expert.

Mascarillas Algeciras COVID19 Toñi Esteban Raquel Collell

Throughout, these tenacious and generous women have been able to craft 23,294 masks which were donated to hospitals, pharmacies, nursing home and essential workers, using fabrics donated to them by collaborating companies and individuals. They also produced 393 plastic gowns, 480 ‘TNT’ gowns (non-woven fabric), 1,431 cloth caps, 18 TNT caps, 596 plastic caps and 169 pairs of foot covers; all of which went to frontline health workers.

The group was coordinated by Toñi, with Raquel overseeing logistics, such as the collection of fabrics and materials as well as distributing the final products. The 100 volunteers at Mascarillas Algeciras have worked throughout the entire pandemic without rest, from earlyty morning to late at night, to the extent that most of the volunteers now suffer from back and joint pain; some have even needed medical assistance.

Mascarillas Algeciras COVID19 Toñi Esteban Raquel Collell

“It’s taken many days, and many hours… I remember there were weeks when I would start sewing at 7:30 in the morning and would finish late at night – and that’s how we’d all end up: with an appointment at the physiotherapist and undergoing rehabilitation,” Toñi said, without a hint of regret in her voice. “Its been difficult, but at the same time very rewarding; we’re all proud of the humble and modest work that we’ve done that has served so many people… Very tiring, of course, but happy and mightily satisfied at having been able to achieve what we have. It has all been worthwhile.”

Anyone with experience in voluntary work, in any form, knows that the rewards of hard work are not paid with money… In the case of Mascarillas Algeciras, in addition to fulfilling their duties, these seamstresses have won an unexpected prize; that of a bond woven in distance which is far from ended with the end of the State of Alarm.

“We are all certain that we’ve emerged from this as a family, our bond won’t disappear despite that, for the moment, we’re no longer creating masks as they can already be found at all pharmacies and supermarkets; they’re also no longer needed at our hospitals. We’ve already done it once, and we would do it all again, without a doubt. I hope that this will not be necessary and I hope that people have become more aware of the crisis and more respectful to the rules… but if this is not the case, if there were to be a situation as tremendous as the one we’ve already lived through, we will be there.”

Special Thanks

Mascarillas Algeciras COVID19 Toñi Esteban Raquel Collell

The Mascarillas Algeciras group have wanted to publicly thank all those individuals and companies that have helped them with their donations and support, and who “have allowed this project, which was initially created to aid the health workers at the Hospital Punta Europa, has served to help so many people: not only Algeciras and La Línea frontline workers, but also State Security Forces and Bodies, prison officials, taxi drivers, bus drivers, public and private companies, people risk, etc “.

The volunteers have also had words of thanks for “Mercedes and David, of Civil Protection, for taking care of the deliveries and collections, and for having been two more of the daily work team, and Radiotaxi, for their support from the very start.”

Likewise, the roll of thanks extends to “Enrique, from Soluciones Ecológicas, for sterilizing all the material; Juanmi, from Merceria Madrid, for getting us the elastic when he was not anywhere; Susana and Guillermo, from the Lavahostel laundry, for donating the first fabrics; Mavi and Pili, from the Silva Stationery, for being the first to donate TNT to us and not leave us during all this time; Pilar, from Alfa, also for donations; Miguel Leiva, for fixing our machines; Mari Granado, for her meters and meters of fabric, with which we have managed to make so many masks and caps; Casa Pastor, for the plastic to make robes; Eurogrúas, Nieves, and others who have donated TNT to us to make the robes; Fonsy, from the Campo de Gibraltar Kite Club, for the sailing material with which they have made robes, hats and covers ….. and many more who we hope will not be offended if we do not mention them specifically. “

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