May 2020 – Two local manufacturers with many years of industrial sewing experience are producing reusable personal protective equipment to meet the needs of businesses and private citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Resource Center and Support Enterprises, Inc., have begun sewing gowns and cloth masks at their Jamestown manufacturing facilities, located in adjacent buildings on Jones & Gifford Avenue. Both organizations, which have been sewing items for the federal government for more than 20 years, are essential businesses, and as such they have remained operating during the COVID-19 crisis. Upon learning of the shortages of personal protective equipment being experienced across the country and particularly in New York State, both manufacturers adjusted their operations to be able to produce reusable PPE.
“As the need for PPE across the nation has grown, we began to expand our sewing operation to try and help meet those needs,” said Todd Frangione, TRC’s Director of Business Operations. “We are currently supplying the Department of Defense with military tactical gear, first-aid kits, and we have now expanded those lines to include PPE in the form of a sewn mask and gown. Our focus is to keep our employees safe and continue to provide critical essential items to all those in need.”
“With the coronavirus crisis enveloping the nation and the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control for Americans to wear cloth masks, SEI has answered the call and is now producing cloth face masks for our country,” said Bruce Theuret, Support Enterprises’ General Manager.
The Resource Center is making gowns and masks, while Support Enterprises is making masks. The masks are being made from a polyester-cotton blend. The gowns are being manufactured using a nonwoven, waterproof thermoplastic polyurethane fabric. The gowns and masks are not intended for use in a surgical setting. The garments are reusable, and it is recommended that people wash the masks and gowns between uses.
With government officials across the country now recommending – and in some cases, mandating – that people wear masks when in public, interest in Support Enterprises’ masks was immediate once the company unveiled them in early April. Theuret said that within a day of putting up a Facebook post about the availability of the masks, Support Enterprises received 60 orders from across the country.
”I was pleasantly surprised at how many responses we had in just a few hours,” he said. He said those 60 orders were for a total of 250 masks, and that another 100 masks were produced and delivered to New Vision Services, a Jamestown-based provider of in-home care to residents of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.
“New Vision Services is very excited to have received our order of 100 masks from SEI,” said Jessica Holmes, Director of Community-Based Services at NVS. “These masks are being handed out mostly to personal care aide staff to add extra protection while they are working on the front lines. We’re thankful that Support Enterprises could be of assistance during this difficult time.”
SEI’s masks are being sold for $4.75 each and currently are available in a variety of colors and designs. Theuret said several people who have ordered masks specified that they didn’t want any of them to look the same, so that each member of the household would be able to know which mask was theirs. While Theuret said Support Enterprises will try to accommodate people’s requests when they order, he cautioned there will be times when the color varieties will be limited because SEI will need to work with whatever color material is available. Theuret said Support Enterprises can make hundreds of masks in a day.
On The Resource Center side, sewing operations are being ramped up to meet the heightened need for PPE. The Resource Center anticipates producing up to 15,000 gowns and 95,000 masks a month.
To meet that production schedule, TRC is hiring additional workers to sew masks and gowns, meaning that some people who lost their jobs as a result of the crisis will again have the opportunity to work. The number of people to be hired will be determined by the level of demand for the masks and gowns. The Resource Center is prepared to produce the PPE 24 hours a day, if necessary, by running three shifts of workers. TRC plans to give hiring priority to workers who have a disability, but may be hiring non-disabled temporary workers as well.
TRC’s gowns and masks are being marketed to local businesses as well as to health care organizations throughout the state, particularly agencies like TRC that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because of the disease, people with disabilities who live in group homes state-wide are being kept at home. Staff working in the homes need masks and gowns to try to ensure the safety of themselves and the people they support.
TRC’s masks are being sold for $4.60 each, while the gowns are selling for $32 each. The minimum amount of masks and gowns that can be purchased at one time is 10, and they are being sold in lots of 10 each. The items can be shipped anywhere, though TRC officials anticipate some organizations may be in such desperate need for masks and gowns that they will drive to Jamestown to pick up the items rather than wait for the products to be delivered.
In their efforts to develop and roll out the production of PPE, The Resource Center and Support Enterprises have received assistance from the City of Jamestown and the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency. Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Crystal Surdyk from the Department of Development and other members of their team have worked with The Resource Center to identify potential business customers and inquire about financial assistance through Empire State Development. TRC officials expressed gratitude for the city’s contributions.
“I was very thankful for the support and energy that Mayor Sundquist, Crystal and the team put into trying to help TRC make connections to those in need of PPE locally,” Frangione said.
Meanwhile, the IDA helped connect Support Enterprises with SKF, resulting in an order for 1,000 masks that incorporated a Velcro strap per SKF’s specifications.
“When I received the call from SKF, I was glad that we could help. Any time we can work with a local company, especially at this time, to help with any type of sewn product, it helps keep both of our business dollars local. This is a win-win for both organizations,” Theuret said. “I greatly appreciate the assistance the IDA provided in facilitating the connection between Support Enterprises and SKF.”
The Resource Center and Support Enterprises are proud they are able to fill a need by producing personal protective equipment during the virus crisis.
“It has been rewarding to be able to utilize our extensive manufacturing capacity to provide protective equipment for our own employees, and our community of fellow healthcare providers,” said Denise Jones, The Resource Center’s Executive Director. She also had praise for the effort put forth by all TRC employees in response to the virus crisis.
“We are blessed with a talented team of employees in all divisions. I am truly thankful for our employees throughout the organization who continue to ensure the support of our clinic patients, the individuals we support in residential and family settings, and our fellow team members.”