By Nick Parker
It’s easy to do. The components are available, and you might even already have some of them at home. And the end-product is desperately needed.
Inspired by a video created by a Greensboro woman, a loosely organized group of local makers, crafters and other community members — concerned about the safety of medical providers on the front lines in the COVID-19 pandemic — has created more than 6,000 face shields and provided them for free to healthcare providers locally and across the state.
Chapel Hill resident Jen Johnson got the idea several weeks ago after seeing the video posted on social media by Paige Cox, who was making face shields for healthcare providers in the Triad. “I was thinking, ‘What could lay people do to help?’” said Johnson. “So, I dashed off a note to Paige, saying ‘Can I use your video, can I copy your concept and get it going in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area?’”
Cox put Johnson in touch with her sister, Perri Kersh, who also lives in Chapel Hill. Kersh shared on her Facebook page a call for support for the project, and hundreds of donors have since contributed money and/or ordered supplies online to help make Personal Protective Equipment and launch PPEopleBrigade – Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Durham.
“It really is a brigade, a group of volunteers and concerned citizens getting together to keep our healthcare providers safe,” said volunteer Michele Lynn, who coined the group’s name.
Relying on crowd-sourced materials and donations, the local PPEople Brigade has already raised more than $10,000. All the money goes into securing the necessary supplies — such as Velcro and adhesive foam tape — for producing the shields and paying for shipping.
The supplies “come to our house and then we prepare kits,” said Heidi Tyson, who along with her daughter, Jaryn, has been managing the purchase and distribution of the supplies. “We have a really efficient process, so as long as we have the requests [we’re all good].”
Each kit contains enough materials to make 100 masks. Volunteers take these kits and assemble the masks on their own, before returning the finished product to Tyson. “Each mask can be made in about two minutes for one or two dollars,” said Cox. “While some of the needed items may be in short supply, folks are creative and can come up with needed substitutions.”
Members of the PPEopleBrigade then distribute the face shields, for free, with either one of the coordinators driving to local health centers or a volunteer shipping them in the mail.
“While we’re happy to ship anywhere … it just makes more sense if local providers are helping their communities.” Tyson said.
David Wohl, a professor of medicine at UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases who has received face shields from the local effort, said donations from groups like the PPEopleBrigade can aid in alleviating critical shortages.
“The homemade masks and the homemade face shields are the things that have really helped us,” said Wohl. “It’s wonderful because people are paying attention, and just a few weeks ago we were worried people didn’t understand we were suffering.”
The PPEople Brigade movement is growing, with thousands of requests currently being worked on and the idea spreading. Cox’s website offers online resources that individuals can access so they can create face shields for their own communities.
“We have a simple, easy-to-follow video, a supply list, suggested sources for supplies and ideas for reaching out to local nurses, doctors, hospice facilities, homeless shelters and community health centers,” Cox said.