A message from Jim Gerlach, President and CEO, Greater Reading Chamber Alliance
The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) is pleased to be a founding partner of the Berks PPE Resource Network. This initiative began as a string of emails between GRCA, Albright Science Research Institute, CrossTrainer Mixed Reality, Hamburg Area School District, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA, Berks County Medical Society, Alvernia University, Mantis 3D Printing, Berks Alliance, Penn State Berks LaunchBox, and GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. Since the initial email brainstorm took place between these organizations thirty days ago, 93 volunteers have been engaged, 182 organizations have been served, and 18,500 pieces of PPE have been distributed. All materials have been provided at no cost to the end-users which includes a large list of healthcare systems, assisted living facilities, private practice physicians, emergency services and first responders, businesses, and non-profits.
The ad-hoc committee of founders listed above used their strong networks and existing relationships to engage partners at many different levels including: the maker-community/3D printing community; engineers and individuals to support prototyping + design; the business/manufacturing community; relationships with school districts and our institutes of higher ed; and local government and community stakeholders. Within days of outreach, the group created a vast network of makers, shakers, and movers, each taking a piece of the larger scope of work.
A critical component of this work was (and continues to be) constant communication. The group built out a private maker-group on Facebook, a Slack chat, and holds frequent Zoom Meetings to ensure that they are connecting the designers and makers with the end-users to allow for feedback and adaptations. Additionally, there is constant communication surrounding PPE requests from organizations, outreach to the community, and new partnership opportunities that seem to expand with each day that passes.
During week one of production, our makers produced face shields using a Mantis 3D Printing template. Verde Mantis, producer of the template, is a client of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA. To be sure the materials were in compliance with FDA guidelines, Albright Science Research Institute submitted a request for authorization of the materials, quickly receiving approval. Since week one, the makers have also expanded their offerings to mask straps, which allow for comfort and decreases irritation behind the ears. The group also created a template for a DIY mask frame, which ultimately led to a partnership with “Making Masks in Berks County,” – the largest volunteer mask-making network in Berks County.
As the group has expanded, sourcing materials and covering costs to provide these materials free of charge has certainly been a big factor. Early adopters and financial supporters of this initiative include Berks Alliance, The Friends of the Reading Hospital, and Berks County Community Foundation (BCCF). Their donations at the very start allowed for the group to mobilize quickly. BCCF also provided Berks PPE Resource Network with a fund for people to donate to.
That being said, the intent for this group was never to take “business” from our local industry footprint. The mission from the start was to fulfill a temporary gap in PPE, while allowing our manufacturers and knitting mills time to retool and re-train their workforce on creating new materials. In just three weeks, we have seen multiple, local employers re-tool and shift supply chains to provide masks, face shields, gowns, dividers, sanitizer, and more. The goal now is to send paying customers and businesses to these “preferred vendors,” while The Network remains to exist to support local non-profits and community-healthcare facilities that cannot otherwise pay at-cost. We have been upfront and communicative with our manufacturing community along the way, and have even provided free PPE to essential manufacturers as they sought out their own materials for their employees’ safety.
Many employers donated equipment, financial resources, and materials to the Network. For example, one company donated over $15,000.00 worth of 3D printing technology. Another local company was able to partially re-open an out-of-state plant to produce filament for the printers, while another employer is celebrating one of their engineers who has dedicated countless hours on re-working prototypes for the group. These are just a few examples of our business community rallying around the Network, and our homegrown, All-American Ingenuity being showcased at its best. (After all, manufacturing is Berks County’s largest sector, making up roughly 23% of our GDP!)
As the Network continues to evolve day-to-day (sometimes hour-by-hour), the group wishes to share their story with other communities in how to get this work done quickly by mobilizing your community. To do so, they have created two videos with core committee members to better help you understand how to implement this in your communities. These videos are hosted on a website, also created by a Berks PPE Resource Network volunteer, which captures invaluable information, photos, media clips, and tools for you to take back to your key partners.
• Facebook: Look up our Private FB Group + Follow Along with our Progress: Berks PPE Resource Network
• Instagram: berksppe
For More Information: Please reach out to Ellen Albright, Director – Talent + Workforce Development, GRCA