By Catherine Twing, Contributing Writer
Westborough – What started as a request for 400 face shields from Milford Regional Hospital grew into an effort to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to hundreds on the front lines.
In March, Kelley Petralia, executive director of Westborough Connects, heard from a Westborough resident and employee at Milford Hospital about the need for PPE. Petralia reached out to Westborough Rotary Club President Elliott Rittenberg to make it happen.
After watching videos about assembling face shields, Rittenberg and other volunteers realized this was a way to give back to frontline workers and were excited to get started.
There was only one problem.
All non-essential stores were closed and the supplies they needed were in short supply.
“By the time we got the request we had basically gone into lock down, so we were looking at how are we going to do this, how are we going to get materials,” said Rittenberg.
“We called around to Joann Fabrics, looked on Amazon, called hardware stores,” Petralia noted.
It was decided that the shields would need to be made with supplies purchased in bulk. They ordered most materials from online sources including 54” vinyl which arrived in 10-15 yard rolls.
“We wanted to minimize, for safety reasons, how many people were touching things,” Petralia said. She explained the at-home assembly line Rittenberg orchestrated which included volunteers cutting the vinyl into the proper sizes, another volunteer cutting the Velcro, and another cutting the damper strip.
The items were organized into kits and then dropped off for assembly.
“We dropped them off at people’s homes on their front step, or they picked them up from our front steps,” Rittenberg said. They held a video call on how to build the shields and then collected assembled shields from front steps to ensure social distancing.
Rittenberg and his wife made 12 or 13 shields themselves and found it to be fairly simple.
“The first one or two took 15 minutes each, then after that they were 5 minutes each to build. Once you went through the process it became pretty simple,” he said.
The cost of the materials came out to around $6,400 which was funded by the Westborough Civics Club, Westborough Rotary Club and the Rotary Club district 7910, which includes 50 clubs in Central Massachusetts.
In total, 25 volunteers helped assemble 1,415 face shields which were delivered to over a dozen organizations, with a reach far beyond Worcester County.
Members of the Bedford Rotary Club and Concord Rotary Club both assisted in making the shields and delivering them to facilities in their area, and shields were delivered as far away as Nashua N.H.
Rittenberg said this regional approach is what helped them receive the necessary funding from their Rotary district.
“If it was just Westborough and Milford they may have helped, but because we could expand to other clubs and regions, that made it easier for them to come up with funding for it,” he said.
Both Petralia and Rittenberg expressed how this project helped them better understand the needs of frontline healthcare workers.
“I’m not on the front lines, but I know many people who are, we all do,” Petralia said. “I felt like this was a way we could pull people together and protect, behind every shield is a person.”
Rittenberg had a similar experience.
“It was really eye opening about how critical the need was. We read about it and see on the news about how short all these folks were for this protective equipment, but to hear from them and the difference it makes, it struck me,” Rittenberg said. “More than one of the places we delivered told us that not only was it providing protection, it also helped boost morale knowing there’s someone out there pulling for them.”