NEW BRITAIN – They say superheroes comes in different forms. That sentiment rings true for the 120 volunteers that made 22,000 face shields in just 11 days for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’ve all made at least a thousand each day,” said Diane Simino, a reading teacher from Berlin who worked all 11 days. “It just feels so good that I’m doing something to help the first responders and medical workers who all so desperately need the masks.”
The volunteers ranged from students, teachers and people who were furloughed or laid off, all hoping to help by playing key roles in assembling the face shields at New Britain High School’s gymnasium, which was transformed into a temporary production site.
“The reaction from people who want to volunteer was amazing,” said Sondra Sanford, a partnership coordinator with The Consolidated School District of New Britain. “It’s a wonderful cross section of people and many have found new respect for the healthcare workers who have to wear the masks all day. I know people will make more if we had more to make.”
Through a collaboration with OKAY Industries, the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain and the Consolidated School District of New Britain, community leaders were hoping to complete the task in three weeks. No one expected all projected 22,000 face shields to be completed ahead of schedule. The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving along with other community partners donated a total of $50,000 for the production.
“It’s just amazing. I have no other words for it,” said David Obedzinski, CFGNB president and CEO. “We’ve been hearing from all the agencies that have received it and everyone’s just so appreciative for them.”
The face shields were designed by OKAY Industries engineers, with approval by Hartford HeathCare. The product is a plastic shield with foam that goes across the forehead with a band across the back that protects healthcare workers working with COVID-19 positive patients.
More than 15,000 face shields will go to the hospitals within the Hartford HealthCare system, including the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, and the rest will go to the Hospital for Special Care and first responders in New Britain, Berlin, Plainville and Southington, as well as the EMS Academy in New Britain, CSDNB health offices, and other Greater Hartford first responders and area shelters.
About a thousand face shields have already been donated to the New Britain Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, which is an estimated cost savings of roughly $10,000, said Bruce Baxter, chief of New Britain EMS, who was part of a large group of EMS workers that visited the NBHS production site Monday to express their appreciation for the volunteers.
“Seeing the people come together during adverse times like these is like watching my roots and family heritage coming through,” said Baxter, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Poland to New Britain. “I would listen to my grandparents regale about the camaraderie during the war and I feel like that’s what I’m witnessing here today.”
Having worked in many different places throughout his career, Baxter said he has never seen such a high level of community spirit as New Britain has.
“This is a battle against an unforeseen disease. So to see people from all walks of life come together to help our first responders has an incredibly special meaning for us,” he said.
Simino echoed similar feelings, stating she has family members who are nurses at Hartford Healthcare and it scares her they might not be properly protected.
“To be able to quietly work behind the scenes to help the healthcare workers is very gratifying,” she said. “Everyone is so eager to help and it’s really nice to see that.”
Gary Havican, president of The Hospital of Central Connecticut and Midstate Medical Center said what the volunteers were able to achieve in such a short period of time is “beyond incredible.”
“This project with OKAY Industries has helped ensure that medical staff within our healthcare systems are protected during this pandemic,” he said. “To all the volunteers who helped assemble the 22,000 face shields, thank you for your time and dedication.”
Contact Catherine Shen at 860-801-5093 or firstname.lastname@example.org