What’s a handbag and accessories company to do when a national crisis occurs and it has a bunch of people who sew? It makes face masks and gowns that are expected to be needed by hospital workers on the COVID-19 front lines.

Meanwhile, a Columbia City business that makes automotive and aerospace products is running its 3-D printer night and day to make face masks.

Fort Wayne-based Vera Bradley and Cinda B are both using their workforces to help supply items to local hospitals.

“Our in-house team is currently able to sew general protection (not medical quality) masks out of our distribution facility,” Holly Ryan, Vera Bradley spokeswoman wrote in an email. “At this time we’re not able to provide these to the general public, but this is something we’re looking into.”

It’s working with Parkview and Lutheran health networks to find sources for material.

Beginning March 30, the company plans to offer medical scrubs, lanyards, bags, and other related items on verabradley.com.

Cinda B, which sews its line of machine-washable handbags and its accessories in Fort Wayne though Hentz Manufacturing, started making face masks and shields and gowns March 18.

Bob Hinty, owner of Hentz Manufacturing, 1530 Progress Road, Fort Wayne, said in a video on Facebook that the company started by cutting 2,000 isolation gowns and had 1,000 completed March 23.

Normally, 20 people sew and supervise the Cinda B line, but after pulling sewers from other work and hiring 10 laid-off people, Hinty has 60 people working on the medical supplies.

“The (face shields), we basically use the plastic that’s on the inside of a Cinda B hanging organizer. ... The masks, we’re waiting for the aluminum piece that goes across your nose to get you a good seal,” he said in the video posted March 24.

It had Alconex Magnet Wire of Fort Wayne create a die for the nose piece.

It will have home sewers make the face masks.

“Everybody in the community’s pitching in,” he said.

Hinty hopes the company can make up to 100,000 gowns, and an equal amount of masks by turning out 2,500-5,000 units a day. As of March 26, workers had produced 740 face shields, 3,000-plus isolation gowns, 2,400-plus face masks and 1,000 Disc-O-Beds, a type of modular bed.

Hinty’s goal is to make 100,000 gowns, 100,000 masks and 100,000 face shields,, but he’ll keep the company making medical supplies until the need is no longer there, the company said.

Northeastern Indiana’s strong manufacturing base makes the region poised for the work.

“We can make about anything in a really short period of time,” Hinty said.

Rick Williams is using his 3-D printer at Qualitex to make plastic masks for nursing homes and caregivers. A high school friend who works at a nursing home reached out to him for help because they didn’t have any types of masks against the highly contagious disease.

Hearing the need for protective gear, the southwest Fort Wayne resident thought he could make the face masks, and he hopes to make more for those who need them, for free.

“I don’t want them to take them away from the hospitals,” Williams said.

He has completed six, using a bit of help from a couple of engineers, but he’s been assembling them on his own. What he’s had trouble finding is the 1 micron filters to keep out the coronavirus. His suppliers are out of stock. He only received 12 filters, which he’s cutting down to fit to the masks.

“They seal,” he said.

He thought about getting a couple of more 3-D printers, but at $5,000-$10,000 each, he’s letting the one he has run night and day.

After listening to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s directive to help slow the speed of COVID-19 so hospitals don’t get overwhelmed with patients, Williams cut his staff by about 20% to around eight employees to allow for social distancing. And each day the factory is wiped down and drivers leave deliveries outside so no one other than workers come inside. Its work is continuing as an essential business, which has customers such as Johnson & Johnson.

Nursing homes and caregivers in need of face masks can call Williams at 260-244-7839.

After word got out about what Williams was doing, he returned to work March 27 to find requests for 200 masks, so he planned to be on the phone to locate 3-D printers and supplies.

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