'Pay it forward': Woman's generous act for community during Covid crisis

A Queensland seamstress who lost her job due to the coronavirus pandemic has been helping her neighbourhood keep safe from the deadly virus by sewing washable face masks and giving them away for free.

Valerie Diola, a mother of two who recently migrated to Australia with her young family decided to keep herself busy after the tailoring and alterations shop she was working for had to close in order to comply with the Covid-19 lockdown rules.

She decided to use her sewing skills to “pay it forward” after friends and neighbours generously assisted her young family with food and household supplies as they navigated difficult times while settling into a new home, in a new country.

The Diola family in Queensland, Australia.
The Diola family relocated to Queensland from the Philippines. Source: Supplied

“It was really tough for us because my workplace closed temporarily during the lockdown.

“I had no access to JobKeeper because we are not Australian citizens here yet, we’re not even permanent residents,” Ms Diola told Yahoo News Australia.

“We also have no [access to] Medicare, so it was difficult for me and my family.”

Luckily, Ms Diola’s husband was still working but it was a very uncertain time for the young family.

“When the kids got sick, the budget for our food would go to GP appointments.”

“It was really tough, but we survived,” she said.

“We have already lodged our Australian Residency application, I hope it will be granted soon.”

Valerie Diola shown at her sewing machine.
Valerie Diola has been sewing free face masks for her community. Source: Supplied

From the Philippines to Ipswich

Originally from the Negros Occidental Province in the Philippines, Ms Diola and her family had immigrated to Australia in 2017 and now call the small town of Ripley, within the City of Ipswich, their home in the Sunshine State.

Making the face masks allowed her to give something back to her community, she said.

For contactless pick-up, she hung the face masks she made on a clothes hanger outside her garage for neighbours to collect.

“The materials my neighbours have donated were also a big help because I was able to make more masks for the community,” she said.

“I did not go out of the house when they came to collect the masks, as my family and I were practising social distancing.”

After earning a commerce degree, Ms Diola decided to study Dressmaking at Victory Business College in Bacolod City, Philippines, shortly after giving birth to her daughter.

Valerie Diola and samples of the washable face masks she makes.
Valerie Diola and samples of the washable face masks she has been sewing for her neighbourhood. Source: Supplied

“I decided to study dressmaking so that I can make her dresses, then the school gave me a scholarship for a short tailoring course.”

Ms Diola made wedding dresses for her family and friends back in the Philippines after graduating as one of the most outstanding students in both the TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Philippines) accredited Dressmaking and Tailoring courses she had studied.

To keep her Dressmaking and Tailoring skills sharp over the years, Ms Diola created quite a number of unique, one-of-a-kind outfits which include traditional Filipiniana gowns and Disney princess-inspired costumes for her daughter as she grew up.

“I'm hoping to have my own dress shop someday and make more dresses,” Ms Diola said.

Valerie and her daughter, who is wearing her custom-made designs.
Valerie Diola and her daughter, who is wearing her custom-made designs. Source: Supplied
A custom-made evening gown Valerie Diola created.
A custom-made evening gown Valerie Diola created for one of her Queensland-based clients. Source: Supplied.

Sewing masks becomes a family affair

Appreciative of the overwhelmingly positive response, Ms Diola revealed that sewing face masks has become a family affair in her household.

Her husband and daughter, who is now nine-years-old, assist with adding elastic, folding them up, and packing them into individual bags.

“Filipino people are known to be hospitable, kind, helpful, and empathetic to others,” Ms Diola said.

“When the community is in need, we help out as much as we can, without being asked.

“This is the Filipino trait that I want my children to see and continue someday.”

One of Valerie Diola's clients wearing one of her custom-made dresses with a matching mask.
One of Valerie Diola's Queensland-based clients wearing her custom-made formal dress with a matching face mask to her Year 12 Formal in October 2020. Source: Supplied

The World Health Organisation advises that face masks should continue to be worn as one of the personal safety measures to assist with suppressing Covid-19 transmission.

Ms Diola has given away approximately 250 adult and children’s face masks to people in her neighbourhood and had been planning to donate more if the lockdown had continued.

Valerie Diola has also sewn kids face masks after her neighbours requested for smaller sizes. Source: Supplied.
Valerie Diola has also sewn kids face masks after her neighbours requested for smaller sizes. Source: Supplied.

Since the lockdown was lifted and restrictions eased in Queensland, Ms Diola is back at work. Even though her time is now limited for sewing face masks in bulk, she will still make them for those who ask.

“There was somebody from another state who sent me a message and said she is immunocompromised, and [asked] if she could buy my masks,” she said.

“But I made the masks for her for free and mailed it to her postage-free.”

Ms Diola says she is very grateful to be able to “give back” to her community after receiving generosity and kindness herself from those around her when she and her young family needed it the most.

“It makes me and my family very happy because all we wanted to do was help our community,” she said.

“It feels amazing to know our efforts are seen and appreciated.”

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