How a Canadian volunteer group organized a massive mask-sewing effort with Zapier

Krystina Martinez
Krystina Martinez / Published June 9, 2020

Zapier allowed us to expand so rapidly. It was like magic! — Lee-Anne Moore-Thibert, founder of Canada Sews

As COVID-19 cases started cropping up in North America, Lee-Anne Moore-Thibert found herself coordinating a massive volunteer effort to sew personal protective equipment for health workers in need around Canada.

Work at her paralegal practice stopped when the courts closed, and she joined with a group of friends to help meet requests for masks from health workers in need. Now, she's working with others to manage 8,000 volunteers helping to provide supplemental PPE to health care workers and people in other essential jobs.

Eliminate the risk for human errors

Simba Lipton, who's organized large-scale events like EGLX—the largest gaming convention in Canada—came on board to help with logistics. A Zapier power-user, he quickly saw how automation could help Canada Sews.

"I started using Zapier to create better workflows for my team," says Simba. "I just used whatever skills I had working with spreadsheets and Zapier to help [Canada Sews] centralize information and get data to the right people."

At first, Lee-Anne was taking mask requests from a built-in form on a website, which sent an email alert every time it was filled out. She input those requests into a spreadsheet and shared those out to the teams manually.

"There was a lot of room for error because I'm exhausted," she says. "[The teams] had access to everything, they could easily make a mistake and delete an entire row."

After some tinkering, she and Simba eventually landed on a solution that eliminated manual data entry and consolidated the efforts from other volunteer Facebook groups.

How to organize a massive volunteer effort

Choosing the right tools helped Lee-Anne keep the operation moving.

Use a powerful spreadsheet app and add rows for new form responses

Canada Sews moved its information to Airtable. Part database, part spreadsheet, Airtable allows users to see the same spreadsheet data in multiple views. Each region coordinator has a custom view, so they can see mask requests from their specific province.

Mask requests come in through Typeform.

"Typeform has very powerful conditional logic which helped us with customizing an applicant's journey based on their responses," Simba explained.

Because of the sophisticated conditional logic, Canada Sews needed an intermediate step between Typeform and Airtable. Typeform's built-in Google Sheets integration created a spreadsheet of responses, and then they used Zapier to send that information over to Airtable.

When a new entry appears in Google Sheets, it triggers a Zap—an automated workflow on Zapier— to add mask requests as new rows in Airtable.

Because Airtable views exist for each province, a coordinator for Alberta, for example, will see only requests that come in from that region.

Send a daily reminder in Discord

Simba set up a second Zap to trigger daily reminders in Discord for volunteer coordinators to report daily numbers.

"I am not a very tech-savvy person," Lee-Anne admits. "Simba worked a miracle. All of a sudden, everything was automated. Zapier saved me hundreds of hours of data input and the concern of human error."

An unfortunate reality

Canada Sews only provides masks upon request and has strict requirements for the fabric and pattern used to make masks. Many UPS locations in Canada have also provided pro-bono help, acting as drop-off locations for mask cleaning, and are also providing free shipping for masks to reach their final destination.

"We had a feeling [the PPE situation] would be grim and the trickle-down [of supplies] wouldn't reach nursing homes, grocery store workers, or couriers," Lee-Anne says.

As the crisis continued in Canada, Lee-Anne and Simba say automation has helped them scale Canada Sews, and prepare for the worst.

"I'm more than happy to help build it into what it needs to be," Simba says. "Zapier has helped us scale and will help us scale more."

The effort has also received assistance from Zapier's First Responder Fund, which is helping front-line workers responding to COVID-19 around the world by comping Starter plans for 2020.

"Without that, the entire program gets shut down," says Lee-Anne. "Zapier has been a godsend and it's so amazing to see the generosity of so many organizations to allow this to continue."


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