If you’d asked Pat Lee two weeks ago if he’d ever be manufacturing plastic face masks, he would have thought you were crazy.
But things have changed a lot in the last 14 days.
The Chilliwack man who owns three Certified Auto Sound and Security locations is repurposing technology that normally produces car audio and security solutions, using it to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers.
“At our Maple Ridge location we have machines that allow us to mass-produce the parts and pieces of a plastic face shield,” Lee explains. “We’re assembling those parts and pieces at our Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and Chilliwack stores so we can distribute them to the people who need them.
“Later today I’ll be dropping off 100 face shields and 200 of the clip pieces for behind the mask at the Abbotsford Hospital.
“Another 100 went to the Surrey COVID-19 ICU yesterday and we are just trying to get them everywhere we can.”
At a time when many businesses are doing all they can to just ride out the storm, Lee didn’t want to be sitting on the sideline.
“It comes down to doing the right thing for our community,” he says. “We have the equipment and the capability, so why not do this? People who’ve reached out to me tell me they’re pulling used disposable face shields out of the garbage, sanitizing them and re-using them because they have nothing.”
Lee has not been immune to making tough decisions, including laying off employees.
But he’s been pleasantly surprised to find people adopting that ‘all in this together’ mentality.
“Staff members that I had to lay off are coming back and volunteering their time to help us do this,” he says. “My parents are volunteering their time to put these masks together. It’s great to see how this crisis has brought out the best in most people.”
Some of Lee’s vendors have chipped in financially, donating money to help with the rising cost of materials. To date, Lee’s crew has produced approximately 600 masks, and as word has filtered out, requests have increased dramatically.
Materials are starting to become scarce.
Chilliwack’s Wellington Plastics is helping source 50 sheets of PETG, a clear thermoplastic that forms the shield part of the face shield.
“That’ll allow us to produce another 2,000,” Lee says.
As stressful as it is to find materials and put in the manual-labour hours to produce the masks, Lee wants more organizations to know this option exists.
If that means he has to figure out a way to keep producing more and more and more of them, he’ll find a way.
“We don’t care about the press for our business,” he says. “We just want the awareness to be out there so we can get as many as possible into the hands of people who need them. If anyone can help with the costs of materials so we can keep producing them, that’s the whole hope of ours because we just want to keep helping people.”