Charity Magazine

Handcrafting Medical Masks for Brave Healthcare Workers

By Softstar @Soft_Star_Shoes
Handcrafting Medical Masks for Brave Healthcare Workers

Maintaining a safe workplace for our staff and encouraging healthy living among our customers and community have always been top priorities for Softstar. We normally define "healthy living" in terms of strong feet and an active lifestyle, but as we continue to watch the COVID-19 coronavirus spread across the country (and world) our concerns have shifted to public health and prevention of contagion.

A national shortage of surgical masks is endangering the safety of healthcare workers tending to those who test positive for COVID-19. We happen to have a workshop full of sewing machines, so we began researching how difficult it would be to make medical masks ourselves to donate to local hospitals and health centers.

It turns out it's not difficult at all.

A segment of our shoe production team is now pivoting to a medical mask production team. Starting today, we are sewing our first batch of masks using handcut patterns. Our talented shoe designers developed mask patterns for metal dies, which are like big cookie cutters we use to stamp out shapes quickly from leather... or in this case, fabric for masks. We are rush-ordering these dies to be made and shipped overnight to our shop, which will then allow us to speed up and streamline our mask production.

Shoe designer Molly demonstrates one of her first handcrafted medical masks.

We are still unclear how many masks we will be able to produce, but we will have a better idea after we work out the kinks in the coming days. In addition, we have several talented seamsters who have opted to work from home (more about this below) and have volunteered to spend their time making masks using their home sewing machines.

By chance, we also had a box of 200 brand new N95 respirator masks sitting in storage that we were able to donate right away. We acquired this box of masks over a year ago when a local superconductor manufacturing business closed and planned to discard their remaining supply. We salvaged the box simply because we thought it would be a waste to let it end up in the trash and wondered if our employees would ever need to use the masks in our shop. We never did need them, but we recently learned that this type of mask is currently in high demand by healthcare workers as it offers a better level of protection than simpler masks. We are very grateful they are now fulfilling a valuable need for our community.

All masks will be donated for free to OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University) and our local Good Samaritan Hospital.

If you have a home sewing machine then you can help, too! Check out this article that includes links to patterns and instructions for making medical masks out of common materials. Contact your local hospital or health center to find out where your homemade masks can be donated.

How to Make Medical Masks

Safety in Shoemaking

At this time, we are still making shoes and fulfilling orders, but at a limited capacity and with many modifications. We increased the rules in our shop regarding hygienic practices and social distancing and we will continue to make changes as we find more opportunities for improvement.

We are monitoring daily updates and recommendations from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and our local public health officials. At the time of writing, we are grateful that none of our employees have shown signs of infection, nor have there been any reported cases of COVID-19 in our town. Nonetheless, we are prepared to halt all operations at Softstar if we feel it becomes necessary to do so.

Here are the precautions we are currently taking:

Showroom Closure - Our workshop consists of our production floor and a public showroom. The public showroom has been closed since March 12 and will remain closed at least until the end of April.

Limited Shop Access - Only essential shoemaking employees who choose to continue working are permitted in our workshop, although any employee who wants to stay home is permitted to do so without penalty. No visitors or non-essential staff are allowed on the premises.

Disinfect! Disinfect! Disinfect! - Employees who continue to work in our shop must sanitize their workstations four times daily. All doorknobs, handrails and tools will also be sanitized four times every day and bathrooms must be sanitized after every use. Printouts of popular song lyrics have been posted above handwashing sinks to encourage employees to wash for a full 20 seconds.

Distancing - Workstations in our shop have been arranged to maintain a minimum of 10 feet between employees. Our communal staff breakroom is now off-limits. Employees are encouraged to store their lunches in individual coolers and practice social distancing during breaks.

Work from Home - Remote workstations have been set up for employees who are able to work from home and opt to do so. This includes our office staff as well as our customer service employees, who will be answering customer phone calls from their homes.

Self-Quarantine - Any employee who develops a fever must stay home in quarantine for a mandatory 14-day period after the fever has subsided before returning to work. Similarly, a 14-day quarantine is required for any employee who is exposed to another person with a fever or known exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Limitations for the amount of time off employees can take have been removed. We are also extending benefits for paid time off and paycheck advances.

We would like to thank our fans and our community for your continued support. We understand the fear and unease that has crept into everyone's lives and we hope to encourage each other to stay strong and persevere.

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