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Stencil Ease of Old Saybrook has shifted from making stencils to making faceshield assembly kits during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo courtesy of Stencil Ease )
Old Saybrook business Stencil Ease does just what its name implies: It produces stencils for craft companies like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. But it’s now turning its focus to producing face shields in a time of crisis.
Managing owner Jim Randolph bought the company—which has been operating since 1980—in 2014, although he lives in Chicago. He’s been commuting back and forth ever since and is currently working from home in Chicago.
At the end of March, Randolph was facing diminishing orders from clients and a possible factory shut down.
“Our business was slowing down dramatically,” he said by telephone. “Our retail customers...were slowing down and weren’t selling as much. They were telling us to stop work.
“I thought, jeez—how do we survive this until life comes back?” he said.
Then an employee came to him with an article about nurses in Seattle who were short on supplies and determined to make their own. The nurses made trips to Home Depot to purchase plastic and other materials for face shields.
Randolph thought, “That’s crazy—somebody should be doing that for them. We can do that a heck of a lot better than they can. We can help. We have plastic. We know how to cut it. We have really good sources for that.”
He and his team got hold of a plastic face shield as a prototype and called their suppliers to obtain clear plastic—Stencil Ease doesn’t use clear plastic for its stencils.
“As we sort of dived into it we saw—they need millions of these products,” he explained. “I was a little bit overwhelmed.”
As a small company, Stencil Ease found itself somewhat constrained. But among all the websites offering instructions to individuals for making face masks, they found a University of Wisconsin “maker site,” he said.
There are “a lot of people who want to make [face shields] but can’t get the materials,” Randolph explained.
This gave Stencil Ease the idea to create maker kits, and it’s already sold hundreds of them and is hoping to begin shipping in the next few days. Kits are available to make 10, 24, 50, or 100 masks. Unlike surgical masks, the stencils don’t have to be sterile, just clean. The masks, however, are not FDA approved.
“We’re doing this as fast as we can,” Randolph said. “My wife and I, other than sleeping and a walk here and there, this has been our full-time [focus] as well as two or three people in my office.”
In addition to medical professionals, many factory workers are in need of face shields. Because of the way in which many factories are set up, it’s difficult for employees to maintain social distancing.
“They still have to run their factories because they’re essential, but they have to protect their employees and it’s hard to keep people six feet away so they don’t contaminate each other,” he said.
There’s opportunity for Old Saybrook residents who are temporarily out of work: Stencil Ease will be hiring six to eight people to help with assembly of the face shields.
“Be clean, show up on time, and follow a relatively simple assembly process and do it many times an hour, Randolph said. “I’m not saying it’s a high-paying job, but it’s a job. It will keep food on the table until their normal work returns.”
The job post on Indeed.com lists pay as $13.50 to $13.75 an hour.
“When I started this, the first thing on my mind was, ‘Boy, I’d really like to have something to allow me to keep my employees here and paid,’” he continued. “They can’t go more than a couple of weeks without a paycheck and they’re in trouble. I feel a pretty strong sense of obligation to them so I’m happy to take care of my employees.
“I really like helping and getting the proper equipment to our nurses and doctors who really need it,” Randolph said. The temporary assembly job will give people a job “that basically helps them live and feel good about themselves.”