​SINGAPORE - A small team of nurses from SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP) has been working tirelessly during their lunch breaks, after office hours and on weekends to sew masks for charity.

The hand-made masks are being sold to SHP staff and their family members to raise money for needy patients, said assistant director of nursing administration Tan Siam King on Thursday (Sept 24).

Ms Tan, 64, who is behind the initiative, told The Straits Times that she got the idea for the project during the circuit breaker period earlier this year.

The nurse of 30 years said: "Surgical masks at that period of time were hard to get and very costly. I thought maybe a cloth mask could be more useful, comfortable and functional."

So she started off by making masks for friends and family. Some, she gave as presents to her colleagues for Nurses' Day in August.

Ms Tan, who does not sew often, said she learned how to make the masks from an ST article in March.

Those who received the masks told her that they liked them and found them comfortable, which inspired her to expand her efforts.

She said: "I thought - why don't I gather (the nurses) to do something to contribute back to the patients that we're serving?"

She put out a call for volunteers in August, wary of the fact that nurses have busy schedules and that people had other priorities following the lifting of the circuit breaker measures.

"After (the) circuit breaker (period), people were using their weekends to spend time with their families - very precious time," said Ms Tan.

But she was heartened to see around two dozen nurses show up for the first session on Aug 29. Those who did not know how to sew helped with other tasks such as cutting materials and assembling the masks.

The materials and sewing machines were all sourced by the nurses, who bore the cost themselves.

After that first session, about 90 masks were finished. But Ms Tan and a team of eight others decided to press on and do more.

From Sept 1 to 18, they gathered in small groups during their lunch hour, after work, and during the weekends to carry on assembling and sewing more masks.

By the end of the project, over 430 masks were completed.

"I'm happy to see people are so supportive... I think nurses have this camaraderie - when we do something, we come together to support each other. It's in our nature," said Ms Tan.

The masks were sold for about $10 each, although some buyers decided to pay more. Proceeds from the sales were channelled into the Gift of Family Fund, which helps needy patients.

Aside from helping the less fortunate, Ms Tan said that the mask-sewing sessions served as stress relief for the nurses, who were happy to volunteer.

"My colleagues say they find it very therapeutic - they don't find it tiring to do this during their lunchtime and in the evening. I think it's because it's something that's different from what we usually do. The activity gives them an opportunity to de-stress and take their minds off (work).

"For me, looking at the finished product gives me a sense of satisfaction, especially when people buy and compliment the masks," she said.

One of the nurses, 66-year-old nurse manager at SHP-Pasir Ris Pakrisamy Sarojini Devi, said: "I want to be part of this initiative as there is a sense of satisfaction that the funds raised will help needy patients, especially patients with chronic diseases who need to get medications."