Eight hours a day.
Seven days a week.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Stephanie Dekens has put 6512 hours, on record, into designing and sewing scrubs, masks, and other clothing from carefully sourced materials for healthcare workers and their families.
In 2018, Dekens had to resign from her retail job for health reasons, but she took her love of clothing with her. With a push from a friend and her talent for sewing, she started her own clothing business, Little Butterfly’s Boutique, designing and making costumes for kids and adults.
All was well, until COVID-19 struck, and Dekens pivoted to creating crucial life-saving resources.
Dekens’ drive to help frontline workers started with a favour for a friend, to make a custom scrub, which she did wholeheartedly. A suggestion from another friend led her to the Facebook group Adopt a Healthcare Worker, an online community where Australians come together to support healthcare workers, by preparing meals, looking after family members while they are away, or even just being a shoulder to cry on. Stephanie decided to put her talents towards a good cause.
“I started with a very basic design for tops, pants, hats, and washbags. We now custom make hospital scrubs in any size, length, or any other preferences they may have. We also offer custom designs, so they can have any fabric pattern they want,” Dekens says.
Initially, Dekens offered the scrubs for a donation of any amount, but the money coming in was not covering the cost of production.
“We listened to the feedback from the healthcare workers about our initial designs, but costs were piling up, so I handed all the receipts and paperwork to my husband and told him to give me an average price per product, which he did,” she explains.
“We were then able to put up a post on Adopt a Healthcare Worker explaining the costs, and the response was overwhelmingly supportive.”
Dekens sources all her fabrics from Australian suppliers, and hunts down specifically requested fabrics for healthcare workers to take one less problem off their shoulders. Doing all this from her daughter’s dining room can be both physically and mentally exhausting, but she is not the only West Australian volunteering her time and resources to protect the frontline.
Sewing machines across Perth were dusted off two years ago after an army of volunteers heard the urgent requests for personal protective equipment across WA. They answered the call and over the past 24 months, more than 4800 volunteer members have banded together to gear up the frontline.
Led by WA volunteers, Get Scrubbed is a charity that coordinates volunteers who dedicate their own time to sew together scrub hats, scrubs, linen bags, and many more, to assist in protecting frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.
By providing low-cost items to support the healthcare industry, nurses and doctors can then focus on helping the community without having to worry about the clothes on their back.
So far, 35,000 items from Get Scrubbed, with a retail value of over $700,000, have been donated to healthcare workers in WA during the pandemic.
However, an increase in the workloads of healthcare workers during the current pandemic wave means an increase in the workload for volunteers. Get Scrubbed director Vivian Beresford is calling for more people to volunteer to help.
“Since March 2020, we have grown into a wonderful network of support and friendships that have evolved during this isolating pandemic, bringing people together to sew for a cause, but we are calling on the community for help,” she says.
“We are in urgent need of people with sewing skills as well as donations or monetary sponsorships to purchase essential materials.”
According to Australia’s Black Dog Institute, more than 90 per cent of healthcare workers suffer from severe burnout, and more than one in five frontline workers have experienced anxiety, depression, or PTSD since the start of the pandemic. The organisation reported that the number of individuals accessing their healthcare worker support service spiked from 5000 users before the pandemic, to 50,000 as of date.
Both Get Scrubbed and Little Butterfly’s Boutique have made several posts on the Facebook page Adopt a Healthcare Worker to reach out to healthcare workers in need, and many like Dr Maureen Krasnoff have benefitted from this online community.
Dr Krasnoff is a healthcare worker who has worked in the industry for over seven years. Since the pandemic, she has sought for help, like several others in the health sector, and thankfully, Adopt a Healthcare Worker came through.
“I’ve found really wonderful support at times through the page. Early in the pandemic a wonderful woman cooked and prepared meals for me while I was working in the ICU on night shifts, and I received beautiful scrubs as a donation from Little Butterfly’s Boutique,” Dr Krasnoff says.
“I recently opened up about my PTSD on the page and the need for support. A kind naturopath reached out to offer a treatment session at no cost, and I am so grateful for the community support throughout this difficult time.”
With a new strain of the virus popping up every few months, and new waves of cases crashing out of the blue, the need for more communities like Adopt a Healthcare Worker is undeniable. Amid the chaos, Western Australians have shown that in the face of uncertainty, a little kindness and a decent sewing machine go a long way.
Seven days a week.
Eight hours a day.
Little Butterfly’s story, alongside Get Scrubbed, is one of thousands, and Dekens is thankful to have been given the opportunity, to give.
“I am grateful to have stumbled upon Adopt a Healthcare Worker, it gives me hope that the future may be a little kinder to everyone than it is now,” she says.
“Who knows, maybe we could start a new pandemic of people caring for each other, and show that kindness is very catching, and so easy to spread.”