You’ve heard the expression “we’re all in the same boat,” right?
That’s definitely been the case when it comes to describing how our community has joined together to fight the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – particularly when one of the joiners is MasterCraft.
In early April, as Blount Memorial Hospital was in the throes of tackling the COVID-19 cases it had and preparing for a potential surge of many, many more, MasterCraft representatives reached out to hospital staff with an idea: providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital staff. As unlikely as it might seem, the Vonore boat manufacturing company had the ability to make and sew N95 face masks to the exact specifications health care providers require.
“Rosie the Riveter” might be emblematic of World War II’s industrial shift to supporting the war effort, but it was a different Rosie – MasterCraft’s Upholstery Department Supervisory Rosie Ellard – who floated the idea that her company shift to making PPE. MasterCraft already had donated some of its existing supply of N95s to the hospital, so the relationship had already been established.
“With the correct files, the cutting process is the same, and is the job that we can do most efficiently,” Ellard said. “The sewing takes a little longer because the surgical masks require a strict finish. The cloth masks are easier as they are not as demanding. The hardest part of sewing is the material. It is a lot thinner than what normally is applied under the machine, and the pieces are much smaller. It takes learning how to control the pieces that are front of you,” she explained. “The decision-making process is easy, it needs to be done, so we just kept experimenting with different techniques, patterns and materials until we got it right,” she added.
Employees who are used to sewing upholstery for watercraft now are turning out 120 newly made N95 masks each day, nearly 300 of which have been donated to Blount Memorial.
“We have help from everywhere,” Ellard said. “We have taught two upholstery operators how to sew. The customer service replacement team is helping to sew as well. The assembly supervisors have been helping with the non-sewing tasks. Engineering has helped out with nesting some files to cut on the cutter. Purchasing has worked to get materials donated by our suppliers. This really is a MasterCraft team effort,” she said.
What started as a generous idea has now become an outright micro-industry for MasterCraft. "I am extremely proud of our employees for helping us redeploy our operations toward creating essential items for our communities, as well as those healthcare and first responders on the frontlines," said Fred Brightbill, CEO and Chairman of MasterCraft Boat Holdings, Inc. "MasterCraft will continue to look for ways to leverage its resources to support local communities and participate in volunteer efforts."
And in the community’s all-hands-on-deck approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blount Memorial team has benefitted greatly from MasterCraft’s help.
“We are extremely grateful for the MasterCraft team members who are helping to keep our employees safe by precisely sewing our N95 masks," Blount Memorial Hospital CEO Don Heinemann said. "The generosity found within business and industry to allow their employees to continue working to support the needs of our hospital and the communities it serves is something that is not found in every community, and we applaud MasterCraft for choosing to engage in activities that help so many during this global pandemic."
While everyone is facing uncharted waters right now, MasterCraft plans to keep producing masks as long as it takes to help Blount Memorial and other health care facilities in the area take on COVID-19.
“We plan to do this until it isn’t needed anymore,” said Ellard.