Local makers step up to help during the COVID-19 pandemic

For weeks now, the Mid-Ohio Valley has been quiet. Shops are closed, parks emptied, and restaurants shuttered. But listen closely, and all across the valley, you can hear the steady whirring of machines being put to good use.

Several local organizations have come together to try and assist with some of the needs that the COVD-19 crisis has created in our community. From the beginning, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and other frontline workers has been an issue. In an effort to combat the shortage, the Building Bridges To Careers (BB2C) Makerspace in Marietta has begun creating protective face shields through a combination of 3-D printing and laser cutting. “We became aware that there was a shortage,” said Jared Wittekind, Makerspace Coordinator for BB2C. After learning of the need for face shields, a “small handful” of makers at the Marietta facility began working to create equipment for Memorial Health Systems. As of April 23rd, Wittekind stated that roughly 1200 face shields had been completed.

BB2C has also coordinated with other local makerspaces at West Virginia University at Parkersburg and the Boys and Girls Club on the project. The Ross Foundation has provided some financial assistance with materials, as well as helping to coordinate the effort between the three groups. According to Tres Ross, Executive Director of the foundation, “what we’re going to target is the smaller groups.” Ross stated that many of the larger health systems are now being assisted by larger corporate donors. As such, the local makerspaces are working to provide shields for fire departments, non-profits, and hospice care centers that may still be struggling. Wittekind said that the Lowell fire department and Family Tree Dental were just two of the local groups they had been able to assist.

I’m retired now, and I didn’t like sitting at home feeling helpless.

It isn’t just face shields that are in high demand. Cloth face masks, the kind being used by civilians rather than front line workers, have seen an increased need since the CDC’s recommendation that all Americans be masked when leaving their homes. At BB2C, fiber arts coordinator Ann Siegfried and some of her students have begun sewing masks at home using materials donated by the makers. A larger effort has also been coordinated by the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley. Stacy DeCicco, Executive Director at UMAMOV, said that her organization’s mission has been to act as a “conduit,” bringing together individuals who want to contribute in a meaningful way and ensuring that their contributions get to the right places.

The nationwide need for face masks has created a scarcity in elastic. To assist with the need locally, the UMWMOV, drawing from their MOV Covid-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund, managed to locate a vendor in Indiana selling athletic headbands.  Using the materials they procured from that vendor, they have begun putting kits together (per CDC guidelines) with no-contact delivery, for those who would like to help sew masks at home. Completed masks can be left at one of five local drop-off locations, which includes the Parkersburg and Vienna Piggy-Wiggly stores. According to DeCicco, the response has been overwhelming. “It’s keeping our Americorps staff hopping!” DeCicco said. Collectively, the United Way has been able to collect and distribute over 5,500 cloth masks.

One group tapped by UMAMOV to assist in the effort has been the Actor’s Guild of Parkersburg. Ann Simonton, Nancy Bloomer, Betty Dotson, and Betty Kelley, who are collectively known as, “The Costumer Shop Ladies,” recently came together at the Guild (adhering to all social distancing guidelines) to help create several dozen masks. When asked what drove her to get involved, Simonton said, “I’m retired now, and I didn’t like sitting at home feeling helpless.” Echoing that, Dotson said, “I just love to volunteer. And I’m not one to sit around when something needs done.” According to their Facebook page, Guild member Joshua Woodard has also gotten in on the effort, working to make 56 masks using the UMAMOV’s kits. In addition to those made for the United Way, Simonton has also completed seven dozen masks for the Wood County Society, and Bloomer has created 100 for the staff at the YMCA.

But it isn’t just larger organizations and non-profits who are driving this effort. All over the area, individuals have been stepping up, firing up their sewing machines to create much-needed protection for themselves, their families, and their communities. Harrisville resident Meggan Merritt, along with her mother Kim Boggs, began sewing masks on March 21st. “I saw a Facebook post from a friend’s daughter who is a nurse. She was terrified,” Merritt said. Using a pattern she found on the CDC website, the pair begin working in earnest out of their homes. As word of mouth spread, requests began coming in not just locally, but from all over the country. They have shipped masks as far away as a police department in South Carolina, and a rural hospital in Oklahoma. To date, the pair (with assistance from their family) have completed over 1,400 cloth masks.

It was a way to cope, being able to pour my heart into something I knew he’d be proud of.

As their project grew, they began receiving small financial donations from the community. Though they plan to wrap up their effort at the end of April, any remaining funds will be going towards a scholarship for a Ritchie County High School Senior as part of  the BoggsStrong Foundation, the charity Merritt founded in memory of her brother, Matt Boggs. In fact, it was the anniversary of her brother’s death which motivated Merritt to begin the mask sewing project in the first place. “It was a way to cope,” she said. “Being able to pour my heart into something I knew he’d be proud of.”

To Get Involved:

Message the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley through their Facebook page, or by calling their office at 304-580-0570.

Contact the BB2C Makerspace by emailing jwittekind@buildingbridgestocareers.org or make a request for face shields by filling out this form.

Contact the Ross Foundation by visiting http://www.therossfoundation.org/contact-us.

Donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Parkersburg by visiting  http://bgcparkersburg.org/donate/.