When the pandemic started, two long-time friends found a way to connect: Elizabeth Barbosa would meet up with Alcina Lopes a few times a week to go on a walk and vent about the difficult year they were having.
Until one day, Barbosa decided she had had enough of complaining and wanted to channel her energy into something more productive. “I said, ‘hey, how about we pick up these masks instead of always complaining about them?'” said Barbosa.
“So, we took a stick — literally a stick from a tree — and we just started putting them in bags.”
“We do pretty much all of Villeray, Park Extension, Saint-Michel,” said Lopes. “Now …we decided to go further out. We’ve been beyond Pie-IX, St-Michel, north, south — we really did the whole borough.”
The pair has since upgraded to proper garbage pickup sticks and has so far collected more than 3,500 surgical masks and about 200 gloves in their area.
“It solidified our friendship, obviously. I mean we’ve known each other for over 40 years and it’s just very therapeutic, I find, for us. We’re out, we laugh, we talk to other people. It’s fantastic,” said Lopes.
Barbosa says the feedback they’ve gotten from neighbours has been positive for the most part. Borough Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli has also been supportive of the duo.
The women recently developed a social media presence with an Instagram page, dubbed “Mask Militia,” where they encourage others to join in the effort. They are also calling for better ways to recycle the masks.