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Innovative mask makers work to meet demand

  • Alec MacLeod cuts fabric ties for face masks being manufactured at LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Volunteers Levi Baruch and Deb Habib cut material for face masks being manufactured at LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Brianna Drohen with mask parts cut by the laser cutter at LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Brianna Drohen with piles of completed masks manufactured at LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Some of the masks made at LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center in Orange. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Some of the masks made by Attorney Emily Eash, a new Greenfield resident. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2020 4:49:39 PM
Modified: 5/1/2020 4:49:29 PM

The expectation was that LaunchSpace, a 10,000-square-foot workshop on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center, would open at the beginning of the year. But this was a pre-pandemic plan.

The public health crisis that started in China has enveloped virtually all facets of society, put millions of Americans at least temporarily out of work and strained the American health care system. This has prompted people get creative.

“Like many makerspaces around the nation and around the world, we have all this amazing equipment and many capabilities,” said Brianna Drohen, who co-founded LaunchSpace with Alec MacLeod. “We took some time and assembled an amazing team, and figured we would do something to help our community during this pandemic.”

LaunchSpace has started The MassK Project, a local manufacturing collaborative, with plans to produce 10,000 masks in the coming weeks for the North Quabbin region and surrounding communities. The program recently made its first donation to Heywood Healthcare at Athol Hospital. Public health experts strongly recommend masks as a way to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Drohen said there are now roughly 50 volunteer sewers from the area and nearly 1,000 masks have been made since the manufacturing started the first week of April.

The masks are being constructed with two layers of non-woven polypropylene fabric resistant to droplet infiltration. According to LaunchSpace, non-woven polypropylene fabric is known to provide better protection than woven cotton masks. The non-woven polypropylene fabric comes from unused convention and promotional bags.

“I am not a textile worker, let me assure you,” MacLeod said. “(But) we seem to be making masks, so far, at a rate that is meeting the demand.”

Drohen explained LaunchSpace’s IT room is where the bags are broken down and put through a laser cutter. She also said Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Co. in Orange has donated a few thousand tin ties used to assemble the masks.

Drohen started a GoFundMe page, at bit.ly/35ndmNW, for The MassK Project with a $10,000 goal. People can also visit the donation request page at bit.ly/3d51va5 and the volunteer sign-up list at bit.ly/3d51xPf.

Contact Drohen at brianna@launchspace-orange.com or 978-633-5131 to donate time, materials, sewing kit production, manufacturing expertise or money.

A widespread effort

LaunchSpace’s volunteers are by no means the only ones churning out masks. Albita’s Tailoring Shop at 205 Main St. in Greenfield has gotten in on the mask-making game as well, selling them for money to pay bills during the pandemic.

Antonio Galindo, who owns the shop with his girlfriend, Alba Dolly Agudelo, said the business started making masks about two weeks ago.

The shop sells two different kinds of masks, for $5 and $8, in a variety of colors. However, do to high demand, Galindo and Agudelo ask that customers place their orders in advance by calling the shop at 413-362-6572.

Brand-new attorney and South Bend, Ind., transplant Emily Eash had made 167 masks in various colors and sizes as of Thursday afternoon, having donated them to Buckley HealthCare Center in Greenfield, Glenmeadow Retirement Community in Longmeadow, Pioneer Valley Hospice & Palliative Care in Greenfield, and the Salvation Army in Greenfield, as well as to her colleagues at Robinson Donovan P.C. in Springfield and Northampton and her mail carrier. She said she collected donations from her colleagues to offset the costs.

Eash, 27, plans to continue making masks, which she will sell for a fee so she can purchase supplies to make more masks for donation.

She explained she was inspired to start making masks when she became heartbroken she could not visit her mother, who had gotten sick working in hospice as a nurse practitioner. She pondered ways she could be helpful while also lifting spirits.

“If I can bring a smile to someone’s face, I will,” she said.

Now a Greenfield resident, Eash mentioned she has made each mask — an average of five per night — on a 1967 Singer sewing machine she bought for $24.99 at the Salvation Army store in town just before the pandemic struck.

“I never thought I’d be able to help so many people just by picking up a machine one day,” she said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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