The nationwide medical supply shortage has given locals a chance to show their compassion and ingenuity in a time of need.

Area businesses and residents have used the shortage as a call to action, converting their facilities to manufacture barrier masks for healthcare workers and first responders, both locally and across the country.

Meadowbrooke Gourds in Upper Frankford Township, a company that specializes in hand-crafted gourd decorations, plans to make 10,000 face shields for local hospitals, first responders and emergency medical services.

“I don’t see any of our lives going back to normal until we get this under control and I just want to help get there,” said Meadowbrooke Gourds Vice President Brandon Bear. “That’s my motivation. Anything we can do to help things get back to normal is what I am willing to do right.” 

The idea began thanks to a conversation between Bear, State Rep. Barb Gleim (R-199) and Dr. Debbie Taylor -- two people spearheading the local effort to assist healthcare workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bear, also a partner in Molly Pitcher Brewing Co., was asked to temporarily convert Molly Pitcher’s brewing operations to make hand sanitizer.

“I didn’t see a way where we could help with what they were doing. Distilleries are making hand sanitizers, but breweries don’t have the same capabilities. But being a part of the conversation about what they’re doing is how I saw an opportunity to see if I can help,” he said. “During that conversation, they talked about getting these masks made and I offered to help. That’s how it all got started.”

Supplies started arriving at Meadowbrooke Gourds Monday. Their plan is to make at least 10,000 shields, with 5,000 going to the UPMC Pinnacle Health Network and 5,000 going to first responders and emergency medical services.

Volunteers will cut down large sheets of foam and elastic bands and hot glue the foam to the back of the face mask, then staple on the elastic bands.

“The production process is very simple. We do a lot of things that are similar to that already,” Bear noted. “We are going to get a team of six volunteers at a time to work and hope to have full production on Wednesday.”

Shippensburg Factory Outlet, on the corner of Garfield and Fayette streets in Shippensburg has been staying busy during the state government-mandated shutdown of all non-essential businesses by helping to make barrier masks for healthcare professionals.

Shippensburg Factory Outlet donated and cut the fabric and elastic for the masks, manufacturing 7,000 kits. Three-thousand went to Lancaster to be distributed, 1,000 went to McConnellsburg and the rest went to local sewers and Mennonites.

“I just felt like doing it. I put it out there [on Facebook] to find people that did want to sew and it was overwhelming,” said Shippensburg Factory Outlet owner John Rhine. 

Rhine’s Facebook post spread like wildfire. Even local state representatives shared it.

“Pretty much everyone but the governor,” he quipped. “I’ve never made a mask in my life. You see all the things out there, the callouts for this type of thing and you just want to help. I don’t know how much help these masks really are, but just doing nothing is just not an option -- especially when you are not allowed to sell or do anything.”

Rhine did not put any requirement on the kits that he donated, just that they are not to be sold.

“We do what we can. We’re a small shop,” Rhine stated. “We’re not asking for anything special, we just did what we could and that’s it.”

Two more than capable sewers are Roxanne Miller and Aubrey Sowers of Chambersburg.

The mother-daughter team runs an online shop for vintage dresses via their Instagram page @Sparkle_Plenty_4.

They put their sewing gifts to work every day last week, completing about 350 masks and sending them all over the country, to nursing homes and hospitals here in Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Oregon.

“A friend of mine had sent me a pattern for these barrier masks last Friday and folks were asking for them. We felt, well OK, if it is something that we can do for help, we’ll do it,” Miller said Thursday. “I’ve been sewing for some time, and we thought that this is a great way to use our time. To not just be watching the TV nonstop and to be able to help the community.” 

The masks made by both Rhine and Miller are barrier masks, not an N95 or an approved medical mask. But the barrier masks can be used over the N95 mask so they can reuse them. 

“We were getting requests from people who had no supplies left. We figured some barrier is better than no barrier,” Miller noted. “It’s a way to just show love and compassion. We put a little heart on each mask, pray over them before we send them out and that is our contribution. If it helps one person, then it was worthwhile.”

Local donations needed

Keystone Urgent Care in Chambersburg has taken to Facebook to ask the public for donations as hospitals around the country deal with the current COVID-19 crisis.

Face shields, N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves and alcohol prep pads are some of the items that are needed locally.

Keystone Health Founder, President and CEO Joanne Cochran thus far has been pleased by the response.

“With a nationwide shortage of medical supplies, Keystone Health is extremely grateful for the donations given by our generous community members. This community has always come together to support Keystone Health, and we thank them for once again coming alongside us during this challenging time. We are proud to serve our community and know we will get through this challenge together.”

Keystone Urgent Care is accepting donations at their screening tent located at 111 Chambers Hill Drive in Chambersburg. 

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