Niagara Falls business helping volunteer sewers ramp up mask production for healthcare workers

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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Local hospital systems have joined state leaders asking for community members to donate masks and other protective personal equipment to keep healthcare providers safe as they fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

Western New Yorkers are answering the call.

And Phil McNamara, a bartender who was just furloughed in the Coronavirus workforce reductions, has made it his new mission to help organize the community’s response. He founded the Facebook group #BuffaloResilience to seek out donations of masks for healthcare workers, taking advantage of his network of friends in the area.

“I just got thinking about it and I got thinking about friends who knows a guy who knows a guy,” McNamara explained.

He was quickly connected with volunteers, including fashion design students and quilting enthusiasts, who volunteered to sew masks at home.

Then, he was introduced to Eric Winstanley, and the goals expanded dramatically.

Winstanley works at Custom Covers and Canvas in Niagara Falls, which has closed its retail and service operations for the safety of its employees and customers. But, it has the equipment, the crew, and the will to try to make what healthcare providers need.

“For as long as we’re shut down, we’re willing to help,” Winstanley said.

The company put out a video on Facebook asking for input to refine the personal protective equipment prototypes it’s been creating. It has also responded to the state’s request for businesses that can help make masks to step forward.

Now, it’s helping other volunteers ramp up mask production in a big way, too, helping create mask-making kits to speed up the process.

“Our strongest point is going to be cutting the patterns. We have the capability of probably 2,000 patterns each day,” Winstanley said.

That dramatically increases the capabilities of the volunteer sewers.

“Once I get those kits in those hands then I can have people making hundreds if not thousands of these masks on a daily basis,” McNamara said. “And then we can get those into the hands of people that need them.”

McNamara says the #BuffaloResilience group is safely delivering the kits to volunteer sewers and picking up the finished products to get them to the local hospitals.

McNamara says the response he’s seen is inspirational.

“Every individual who reaches out to me, whether they’re making two masks or 200 masks, they’re just grateful and proud and happy to be involved in something that is Buffalo. It really is just Buffalo,” he said.

More help is needed, though.

McNamara is looking for more businesses to put whatever resources they have to creative use. They also need donations of supplies and they need guidance about the best ways to make medical-grade masks.

If you’d like to help, you can connect with McNamara through the #BuffaloResilience Facebook page.

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