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North Hills Monthly

Maker Community Pitching in to Fill COVID Needs

Apr 27, 2020 08:31PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Photo courtesy (mask)Makers PGH

You have to admire the makers—those people who, when they see a problem, create a solution using their own ingenuity. And nowhere has this been more apparent than during the COVID crisis, where those who can sew, manufacture, craft and create have stepped in to do what’s needed to help their fellow man.

The employees and volunteers at Protohaven are a prime example of this can-do attitude. In this educational maker space in Wilkinsburg, which has been open for the past two years, people are collaborating to create face shields using a unique Protohaven design for those on the front lines.

“Before, it took about two to three hours using a 3-D printer to create a face shield with the design that was being used worldwide,” explained Saige Baxter, Protohaven community coordinator. “Our founder and executive director, Devin Montgomery, partnered with his friend and Protohaven member Mat Thorne to make one using lasers, which reduces the time needed to about one minute per shield.”

It also reduces the cost. Each face shield, made out of durable plastic (PTEG), costs about $1 in materials.

“The response we were getting was mind-blowing; we were getting requests from people all over the world who want to use our file,” said Baxter of the innovative design. But instead of selling the technology, Protohaven made it free to download from their website.

“Now anyone can have access, and we’ve heard from everyone from a French professor in Paris to researchers in Sydney, Australia, to people in London and Belgium who are using the file to mass produce the face shields for hospitals there,” said Baxter.

A nonprofit makerspace that is usually used by members who own or are starting a business, as well as those pursuing a hands-on hobby, the facility is now home to a number of volunteers who are dedicating their time to assembling the masks.

“We got an order for 3,000 masks, and we can make about 200 a week,” said Baxter. “It’s an incredible grassroots effort. Our volunteers are made up of people who have worked at Protohaven before, as well as college students, waiters and waitresses, and artists who are out of work and who want to do something valuable.”

Protohaven is working with Global Links to distribute the face shields to where they are most needed. They are also part of (mask)Makers PGH, an alliance of seven other nonprofits and small businesses—including Radiant Hall, Knotzland, Kerfcase, Firecracker Fabrics, Cut & Sew Studio and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse—who are creating and delivering handmade masks to community groups who then distribute them to those in need.

Catherine Batcho, an Allison Park resident who owns Cut & Sew Studio in Morningside, designed a YouTube video to help volunteers learn how to make masks. “While a lot of people know how to sew, there are people out there who want to help but are new to sewing or aren’t confident in their abilities,” she explained. “I’m a teacher, so I wanted to reach out to them with simple instructions so that they could make masks at home on their own.”

(mask)Makers PGH received more than 4,000 requests for masks, and at the time of this article, more than 1,300 masks made by 285 volunteers had already been distributed to grocery store employees, funeral homes, gas station attendants, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, healthcare providers and more. “We’re going to keep making them as long as they are needed; right now, there’s no foreseeable end,” said Batcho. “We’ll keep doing it as long as necessary.”

Even those who can’t make masks are contributing to the cause. 

“It’s been an incredibly endearing mission,” said Baxter. “Today, I picked up a bag of fabric that someone put on their front porch to donate, and they’d taped a box of chocolate to it. While this is a very unfortunate situation, maybe it’s teaching us how to care for one another.”

Every day, there are more stories about people choosing to make a difference, even if they’d never considered themselves a “maker” before.

“It takes a lot of work to make these masks, and it’s been great to see so many people giving their time to do this,” said Batcho. “These aren’t just people sitting around with nothing to do—they’re home trying to teach their kids and working at the same time.

“It says a lot about our community here, and all over the U.S., that people are willing to be a part of the solution and to make things better, especially in a crazy time like this.”

Ed. Note: More volunteers are always welcome. Visit Protohaven at http://www.protohaven.org and (mask)Makers PGH at https://www.radianthall.org/maskmakerspgh.