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Local craftspeople use their talents to create protective masks

  • Jonas LaPointe, an engineering teacher at Franklin County Technical School, is one of several local teachers who have been using 3-D printers to make protective shields for health care workers. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A plastic piece of a protective face shield comes out of a 3-D printer. The Hive makerspace of Greenfield is coordinating volunteers to make and distribute face shields. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mohammad and Crystal Yaseen, husband and wife co-owners of the Bridge Street Bazaar in Shelburne Falls, now make “artisan masks” in their store. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2020 5:38:33 PM
Modified: 4/17/2020 5:38:20 PM

With personal protective equipment in short supply, local craftspeople have found creative ways to help meet this area’s needs.

The designs range from strictly utilitarian devices for health care workers to fashion-conscious face coverings for everyday people.

In the health care business, shortages of personal protective equipment in parts of Massachusetts and in different parts of the country have been well documented since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Locally, the gap has been partly filled by The Hive makerspace in Greenfield, which describes itself as a community workshop. For the past month, The Hive has been coordinating volunteers to make and donate protective face shields to health care workers. So far they have donated about 400, and have reduced the need in Franklin County to the point that they are now donating to health care providers as far away as Springfield.

“In my mind, what this crisis exposed is the vulnerability of global supply chains,” said Adrienne LaPierre, a founder and co-organizer of the Hive. “To me, this speaks to the need and potential role of a public makerspace.”

Most of the face shields have been made by a few local teachers who ordinarily use 3-D printers in their classrooms, LaPierre said.

When schools were closed in March, Jonas LaPointe, an engineering teacher at Franklin County Technical School, took a 3-D printer home with him to finish some work for his class. When it became clear that schools would be closed for months, not weeks, he went back, took the other two from his classroom and started making protective face shields at home.

“I was like, ‘They’re here, what else can I do?’” he said.

LaPointe soon coordinated with The Hive and Brian Lamore, a science and technology teacher at Turners Falls High School, and David Warren, a computer science and math teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon School, who also runs the school’s makerspace.

By the first week of April, they had settled on a design that is relatively simple to produce and that is widely accepted by health care workers.

Production is slow, however. 3-D printers are generally used for prototyping, not for mass production, LaPointe explained. With three 3-D printers running at once, LaPointe said he can make six face shields in 2½ hours.

Still, they have since delivered face shields to Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Charlene Manor Extended Care in Greenfield and Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, among others, LaPierre said. The deliveries outside Franklin County have been more recent, she said, as the needs at Franklin County facilities have been largely covered.

For everyday people, protective face coverings have become more common in recent weeks, as the federal government has recommended wearing some sort of face covering in public. Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner and Health Director Valerie Bird issued the same advisory to residents on Thursday.

The Bridge Street Bazaar, a boutique in Shelburne Falls, has turned this trend into a way of continuing its business during the current halt of public life.

The store had recently been stocked with new clothes for the spring season. But when the state shut down most retail business, suddenly there was little chance of selling any of the clothes while they were in season.

“So, we started cutting them up,” said co-owner Crystal Yaseen.

Yaseen’s husband and co-owner, Mohammad, is a tailor, and began experimenting with designs for face coverings. They have been using a three-layer design, of fabric on the outsides and a liner in between.

The Bridge Street Bazaar is now selling masks — “artisan masks,” as the Yaseens call them — in solid colors and in patterned fabrics. They start at $18, and can be bought through the store’s website, bridgestreetbazaar.com.

The storefront is still open, to some extent. In the window display are one-of-a-kind designs that are not on the website. Customers choose from the sidewalk and the Yaseens bring them out themselves.

“I like to think of the idea of window shopping in a different way these days,” Yaseen said.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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