French Cleaners is among the businesses that have diverted their efforts to producing protective equipment for healthcare workers.
By Dexter McCann
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a medical crisis throughout the country, with hospitals and municipalities in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) to help slow the spread of the virus and adequately treat those infected.
The Town of West Hartford, as well as a number of local hospitals, are among those looking for additional PPE. Unfortunately, the crisis has made it impossible for traditional suppliers to meet what now is nationwide demand for these products.
Adding to the need for masks is a new executive order issued Friday by Gov. Ned Lamont, requiring individuals to wear masks in public places where it is not always possible to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing – such as grocery stores – and requiring masks to be worn by those in public facing jobs or in jobs where they cannot also maintain physical distancing.
Thankfully, West Hartford’s businesses and residents have stepped up to provide homemade face masks to the town and to local hospitals, in many cases at no cost or at cost of materials.
French Cleaners, the dry cleaning business that has been located on Farmington Avenue for 95 years, is doing its part to assist local hospitals. Mark Hatch, manager of French Cleaners, first had the idea to produce face masks when he saw Dr. Frank Jackson, a resident at St. Francis Hospital, ask for spare masks on the West Hartford Neighbors & Friends Facebook group.
The two connected, and St. Francis began sending sheets of Halyard H600, a kind of medical fabric that can be used to make surgical masks, to French Cleaners.
From there, the store’s alterations department has been producing masks in assembly line-like fashion, making a mask from the fabric approximately every 15 minutes.
French Cleaners has stayed open during the crisis, as it has been deemed an essential business. However, sales have dropped 60-70% since the COVID-19 outbreak in Connecticut, as families have been staying at home. With employees still on-site despite a much smaller workload than usual, Hatch saw a unique opportunity to use French Cleaners’ sewing apparatus to help assist the health care workers on the front lines.
As of Friday April 17, French Cleaners’ alterations team has produced around 400 masks, all of which have been donated to St. Francis Hospital at zero cost.
“We’re just trying to help anyway we can,” said Heather Lyons, one of the store managers at French Cleaners.
“We have very talented people. They’re [St. Francis] happy with the work we’re doing and we’re happy to be doing it,” added Dorothy Dzopia, another store manager.
As it happens, Hatch and his wife, Elyse, were expecting their second child around the time French Cleaners began producing masks. In a happy coincidence, Elyse delivered the child, a boy, in the same department at St. Francis Hospital for which French Cleaners had been producing masks.
Multiple residents stopped in to thank Hatch for the work he had done. Even the president of the hospital, Dr. John F. Rodis, stopped in to deliver a heartfelt thank you. Later, Rodis called French Cleaners to thank the employees who had been producing the masks.
It hasn’t just been local businesses that have gone above and beyond to provide PPE for the town and surrounding hospitals. Local residents have done their part as well.
Dana Greenberg is one such resident. She’s been sewing masks out of cotton, cotton flannel, and elastic, all from her own home.
Greenberg had been browsing Pinterest during quarantine when she came across a “do it yourself” tutorial on how to sew together high-quality masks. She saw a similar video on the Huffington Post, and quickly she realized she was more than capable of helping out.
“I had seen the tutorials pop on Pinterest … I realized this is an easy one for me. I can do this,” Greenberg said.
At first, Greenberg was just producing masks to give away to friends. One of those friends, Liz Kerrigan, recognized that she could increase her output if she began selling some of the masks to local hospitals at cost of materials, which she began doing. Still, it’s all about charity for Greenberg.
“I’m really doing this to just donate and help people that I know need them [masks].”
“For every one sell, I give one away,” Greenberg added.
So far, Greenberg has produced an incredible 500 masks. She admitted that she was a hoarder of sewing material and equipment, and was thrilled to have a good cause to put that material to.
Sally Lynch is another West Hartford resident who has gone above and beyond to help fight the spread of COVID-19. She started sewing masks when she learned that Gigi Giannone, a family friend from West Hartford who attended Northwest Catholic, was working at a nurse in a New York City hospital.
Lynch, a dog lover, has been making the masks using cotton dotted with a paw pattern.
In these difficult times, the West Hartford businesses and residents that have stepped up to provide PPE have been a silver lining, and are helping the town and surrounding area persevere through this difficult crisis. In a time of need, the aforementioned people have stepped up in a major way for their community.
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