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When Shelly Wong first learned about the dangerous shortages of protective masks and face shields for health care workers treating COVID-19, the Alameda-based entrepreneur and furniture designer swung into action.
After talking with a friend who is an ER doctor at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, Wong quickly assembled a team to build as much protective gear as possible.
“Knowing the ER docs at some of the hospitals made it real and personal for us,” said Wong. “We then started to branch out to other hospitals where we felt there was a need.”
Within about three weeks, Wong had mobilized nearly 100 volunteers to create thousands of masks and shields, distributing them to hospitals in the Bay Area and beyond.
Working seven days a week since mid-March, Wong’s all-volunteer team — called It Takes a Village, which includes her husband Alex Chan, also a designer, and their teenage children — has churned out some 8,000 masks and 750 polycarbonate face shields for Bay Area public hospitals in need, along with overwhelmed facilities in New York City. This week, the group intends to donate another 1,600 fabric masks to UCSF and Sutter Health in San Francisco.
Along with co-organizers Julia Chin and Eva Camp, Wong is toiling long hours to produce and distribute the materials.
“All three of us go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7 to get packages ready for the drivers,” Wong said. “There’s no Saturday or Sunday [off], every day is full-bore. Right now, everybody is so concentrated on sewing. Some people are sewing all day, every day.”
With a network of volunteers sewing the masks from their homes in Dublin, Fremont, Oakland, Orinda and elsewhere, and a steady supply of donated cotton fabric and other materials, the group is pumping out roughly 700 masks a day that can be used to supplement N95 masks, giving health care workers added protection.
Wong said the experience and volunteer response has been amazing.
“We started this before the shelter in place,” she said. “A lot of people feel helpless at home. There is a lot of anger about medical and health care people not being protected … So many people want to do something to help. It gives us a purpose.”
The initiative’s hardworking crew includes 70 people who sew, plus eight fabric washers, two drivers, four elastic cutters and six families making face shields.
One dedicated volunteer, Christine Chapon, drives and delivers materials for the group.
“I love connecting with all those generous and unassuming sewers, fabric cutters, shield makers,” Chapon said. “I am so impressed by their relentless work. I will drive miles and miles so this project can contribute to the safety of our superheroes nurses, doctors and EMTs. I am so lucky I can help a little.”
In addition to its tireless volunteers, the program has benefited tremendously from steady amounts of cotton fabric, elastic, cardboard boxes, plastic bags and thread — not to mention professional sewing — donated by Bryn Walker, the Berkeley-based women’s clothing design company.
Other local businesses contributing to the cause include Field Day, a women’s sustainable clothier in Oakland, and Neal’s CNC, which provided materials and laser cutting services for the shields.
The group hopes to provide 100,000 masks and 10,000 face shields to institutions fighting COVID-19, and the volunteer organization has set up a GoFundMe asking for support to reach its goal.