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Gear up with these #MadeInPA masks

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In mid-April, a statewide order to wear masks in public places was issued by the governor’s office to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  A number of businesses and organizations across Pennsylvania are helping people follow that guidance by making face masks for the general public. This story shines a light on two in particular — Annville, PA-based Mister Bobbin Embroidery and Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Porch Light program — but scroll down for a full list of Commonwealth mask makers. 

Mister Bobbin Embroidery is located about 20 minutes from Hershey in Lebanon County. Two weeks prior to the state order for residents to wear masks in public places, owner and president Dave Weaver had already shifted the company’s operations from embroidering promotional products to making face masks. That move has allowed 80 percent of his 25-person workforce to remain on the job. 

“The face mask idea popped into my head during the first wave of the shutdown and I initially didn’t do anything about it,” recalls Weaver. “But when non-life sustaining businesses were asked to close, we researched more aggressively how we could start manufacturing face masks.”

The machinery at Mister Bobbin Embroidery

Weaver contacted Sandi Mangano, owner of Window Fashions and More in nearby Palmyra, to see if her company was interested in partnering to provide pre-and post-production sewing services that were beyond his company’s capabilities.

Weaver didn’t know how his customers would react to the wholesale shift in his product line. 

“Within a half an hour of making the announcement my email blew up and the phone started ringing off the hook,” he says. “Over the next two to three days it became clear that I needed help processing orders. I was getting calls from all over the country and acquiring new customers, most of whom I never knew prior to this.”

The demand was welcome news, even if the sudden surge in business would test the capacity of the 122 embroidery heads that can sew 12 to 18 masks simultaneously. 

“We posted the news on [our Facebook page],” explains Weaver. “That was actually the first time we’ve ever done marketing that way. People were sharing our posts. We started getting calls from California and Nevada and probably about 25 other states around the country. It really exploded thanks to social media.”

Within a half an hour of making the announcement my email blew up and the phone started ringing off the hook.Dave Weaver, Mister Bobbin Embroidery

Initial demand was so great that Weaver had to put a temporary moratorium on new orders to allow the initial orders to be fulfilled and to make necessary changes to increase production.

“New orders did slow down a bit, but took off again once the mandatory order was given,” he says, “but by then many others had started making masks.”

At over 200,000-plus masks and counting, Mister Bobbin will keep making new ones to meet demand. Weaver hopes the beneficial impact on his business will endure after the pandemic. 

 “We’ve received many positive responses and thank-you notes from numerous neighbors and our customers,” he says. “I just hope that people remember the importance of supporting local small businesses moving forward. I do have to give credit though to my employees because while this is not exactly their normal jobs, they’ve been very supportive and positive throughout this whole process.”

***

Looking to financially support its participants was also a motivator for the Porch Light initiative in Philadelphia. A joint collaboration between the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) and the nonprofit Mural Arts Philadelphia, Porch Light works to improve the health and wellness of Philadelphians by providing access to making art. The organization typically offers several programs that focus on immigrant and migrant families, including a textile initiative that utilizes neighborhood women who are expert sewers, weavers, crocheters and knitters.

“We are always trying to incorporate micro-enterprise work into it as much as we can,” explains Program Manager Melissa Fogg. “We also do it for fun, mental health and relaxation. And we try to use the resources and the artists that Mural Arts has in their portfolio to show [participants] how they can take traditional crafts and skills from their home countries and tweak them for American markets.” 

Shifting the program’s focus to making masks instead of traditional crafts was an easy decision.

“It was a very logical jump for us,” says Fogg. “Many of these women have been sewing for a while with us and those who [are new] are incredible sewers and have home sewing machines. This seemed like a great way to help them.”

A Philadelphian in a Porch Light mask

It was apparent to the women in the program that the demand for masks greatly outweighed the available supply. 

“They were alarmed about the lack of masks that were available in their neighborhoods,” recalls Fogg. “So there was a desire to get masks out there for free or at low cost to people who need them while also helping [participants] to make a little money.”

Through a partnership with the Nationalities Service Center and DBHIDS, the program was able to use grant money to pay the women already in the program and to increase the number of participants to 20. 

As word has spread about the new initiative, so has the response to the program. About 250 masks were sold to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) — The CHOP doctors pooled their money and ordered masks because most of the young patients coming to the hospital did not have access to face coverings. Others have gone to Puentes De Salud, a nonprofit health and wellness clinic located in South Philadelphia.  

Since Porch Light has shifted gears, the women have insisted that one mask be donated to charity for every mask sold for profit. 

They felt very strongly that it was a public health crisis, a state of emergency, and it is time for everyone to come together to help one another.Melissa Fogg, Porch Light

“Our goal is to make at least 3,000 masks,” says Program Director Nadia Malik. “And the goal for the women — which they were very firm about — was that for every mask purchased, one would be donated to a community member or a place where people are in need. So, there will be 1,500 donated and 1,500 sold, and above that we’ll continue if there is more demand.”

The women are driving towards that goal but sourcing supplies has become tricky as places sell out of fabric. Any individual who would like to donate materials or make a financial contribution to the project can contact Fogg directly via her email address.

A wave of positivity has sprung from this project. The women have grown closer to one another while still practicing social distancing. They use social media regularly to chat, and share videos and pictures as they craft masks that will be sold with a minimum order of 10 pieces.  

“As a mental-health focused program, one of the things that we know that contributes to great mental health is the idea of service and feeling like people have a purpose and meaning,” explains Fogg. “So it has been amazing to see how excited they are. For one, they have a job and they are earning money at a time when they really need money, but also they are so excited to be meeting an unmet need.”

Fogg adds that the women have been empowered by deciding where the masks will be donated, identifying individuals and groups with the greatest need.

“They really do want to give back,” she says. “They just didn’t want to do it for profit, which is something we offered to them as a micro-enterprise. But they felt very strongly that it was a public health crisis, a state of emergency, and it is time for everyone to come together to help one another.”

***

Here is an alphabetical list of businesses around Pennsylvania where individuals can purchase masks. Do you know any other Commonwealth mask makers? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.

Amenity

The Shippensburg, PA, company is manufacturing washable, reusable 100 percent cotton handmade facemasks, which are available on their website or can be picked up at the facility.

AudinoMasks

Masks can be ordered from this Pittsburgh seller here.

Bookmarksical

The company says it sells face masks to fit most adults; they are two-layer pleated masks with a top opening to insert a filter and/or non-woven fabric. They can be purchased at this link.

Clara Beaus Co

Jenna Palmieri, owner of Washington County made-to-order hair bow company Clara Beus Co, has been selling reusable masks out of her home in Eighty Four, PA. Orders can be placed on Ms. Palmieri’s website or Etsy shop

Fabric Masks Lehigh Valley

Kim Carrodo-Pulley is selling masks via her Facebook page. Requests can be made by emailing [email protected] or calling 610-709-7705. Proceeds from sales go towards PPE supplies for hospitals, first responders and more. Over 300 masks have been donated so far.

Fresh Boutique

The Gettysburg, PA, store is selling face masks. Customers are asked to check the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages to see the latest updates.

Gear Custom Products

The Grove City, PA company sells face masks on its website.

Hello Gorgeous Boutique

The Camp Hill, PA, boutique is selling and making face masks. The cotton face masks come in black or a pattern and take a few days to make. Part of the proceeds are going back into buying more materials and supplies so the boutique can continue to donate masks to first responders and health care workers. The face masks can be purchased here.

Jazzy G Designs

Jasmine Julian, owner of Jazzy G Designs in Aliquippa, PA, turned her tutu-making business into a homemade masks shop. Ms. Julian is asking for a $5 donation towards materials and she is  donating profits to local food banks. Orders can be placed here.

Kaplan Awnings

This Easton, PA, company is making and selling non-medical face masks.

Martz Technologies

Martz Technologies in Berwick, PA, has teamed up with Queen Bee Quilting and Noble Biomaterials to make face masks. Martz Technologies converted its warehouse into a sewing factory and ships masks all over the country. You can buy them here.

(mask)MAKERS PGH

This alliance of Pittsburgh nonprofits and small creative businesses includes Knotzland, Protohaven, KerfCase, Firecracker Fabrics, Cut & Sew Studio, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, and Radiant Hall. In March, the group launched a collaborative effort to help combat the global mask shortage due to COVID-19. Thanks to a network of volunteer sewists, (mask)MAKERS PGH has been able to provide thousands of masks for essential workers and vulnerable communities free of charge.

Military Apparel Company

The Gardners, PA, company is selling face masks in a variety of designs on its website

Neil Choquette Fine Upholstery

See the company’s Facebook page for more details about the face masks they are making in Lemoyne, PA.

Pittsburgh Crochet Co.

The masks are available in different colors. For every two masks sold, the Pittsburgh-based company plans to donate one to first responders. 

Richter Drafting and Office Supply

This company, located in Souderton, PA, has both face masks and face shields available for sale. Check their online store for more information.

Surgical Product Solutions

The Pittsburgh-based company is selling disposable face masks. They come in a box of 50 and cost $55/box plus shipping.

Tex Visions

The Carlisle, PA, company is making face masks and selling them on its website.

JAMES MENTZER is president of Mentzer Communications LLC and a freelance writer who is the author of three books, including Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well.  He resides in Harrisburg.

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