Answering the plea for Covid-19 supplies

Fredonia company donates sanitizing wipes, Saukville firm creates kits, Allen-Edmonds employees use sewing machines that normally stitch shoes to churn out masks

AN ALLEN-EDMONDS employee made protective masks at the company’s Port Washington plant Tuesday as part of an effort to churn out up to 5,000 masks a day for local hospitals and health care workers in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Below, Thaddeus Kryshak (left) and his father Mike Kryshak of Rebel Converting in Saukville are launching a plan this week to make up to one million masks by distributing kits that can be assembled by volunteers utilizing material the company uses to make disinfectant wipes and rubber bands. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Local companies are filling the gap to meet the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) that local hospitals, caregivers, first responders and others working with the public desperately need to protect themselves from the Covid-19 disease.

“Essentially, the world is out of these kind of products,” Tom Misgen, chief executive officer of Guy & O’Neill, a Fredonia company that makes sanitizing wipes, said Tuesday. 

“We’re working around the clock to produce as much as we can. We also have (made) about $125,000 of product to donate” to hospitals, churches and first responders, as well as to the company’s 220 employees, he said.

“We put our employees first and want to keep them and their families safe,” he said.

Thaddeus Kryshak, a junior systems engineer at Rebel Converting in Saukville, said the health crisis was made real to him when a doctor who is a neighbor of his father, Rebel owner Mike Kryshak, asked how to clean N95 masks that are used by health care professionals to protect them from the Covid-19 virus.

“All of a sudden you have somebody living right down the street from you calling because they don’t have enough masks,” he said.

Knowing that Rebel uses the same material to make disinfectant wipes that is used to make PPE masks, Thaddeus began to consider how Rebel could help meet the need.

“I had seen online people sewing masks all day and ending up with 20 or 30 masks,” he said. “I thought we could do better and wanted something that was easy to make and that you didn’t need a sewing machine for.”

He came up with the idea of creating kits that would allow people to make their own masks. Each kit includes four 175-sheet rolls of material — enough for 700 masks — which can be folded and cut to create the mask, and “about a pound of rubber bands” used to attach a mask to a person’s face.

“All you need is a pair of scissors,” Thaddeus said. “I think most people could make one in about one minute.”

The goal is to make 1 million masks available to local hospitals and to “the frontline workers,” including workers at nursing homes, grocery stores and other places where people have to interact with the public, he said.

“A lot of those people don’t have a choice. We want to try and make sure those people are as safe as they can be,” said Thaddeus, who graduated from the University of Miami in December with degrees in mechanical engineering and physics.

Production on the kits is expected to start later this week, Thaddeus said, but Rebel lacks the warehouse space to keep all the kits so Allen-Edmonds Shoes in Port Washington has agreed to be a distribution point for the kits.

He said the company is working with medical students to help with distribution as well as local companies whose workforces have been furloughed by the epidemic.

“We’re not really equipped to handle individuals who want to help, but if a company wants to contact us they can do so through our website,,” he said.

Besides providing a distribution point for Rebel, Allen-Edmonds this week shifted its production facility to making masks instead of shoes.

The company hopes to eventually make 5,000 masks a day, Jim Kass, senior vice president of product development, planning and manufacturing, said.

“We’re just ramping up and we still have a few things to figure out,” he said, saying the company has been in touch with Froedtert, Children’s and Ascension hospitals.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our employees and the people we’re working with,” Kass said. “We’re absolutely thrilled to work with Mike and Thaddeus on this project.”

Another business chipping in is Molded Dimensions in Port Washington, which has secured donations of 800 pairs of rubber gloves and nearly 500 masks from a supplier in China.

Molded Dimensions’ business unit GlocalSource has the relationship with the company in China. The name of the donating company wasn’t released since it is considered intellectual property but GlocalSource Business Manager Kevin Kuhagen said it has worked to build a wonderful business relationship with the company.

“I can only tell you the masks came from some incredible folks in China who now see we’re going through what they just have. We never needed to ask or request any of this,” Kuhagen said.

The masks and gloves were given to 10 Molded Dimension employees who are first responders and to employees whose loved ones work as medical professionals across area hospitals, senior homes and traveling in-home care companies.

Aurora Medical Center in Grafton is receiving 220 masks and 400 pairs of rubber gloves. An intensive care unit nurse will deliver them to minimize unnecessary contact.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital in Wauwatosa and Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee are receiving 200 pairs of rubber gloves.

“As a business, our first concern is always the health and well-being of our employees, but in this climate it feels good to be able to step up to the plate and help in some small way all those that are on the front line during this crisis,” Molded Dimensions chemist Tony Lukas said.

“The fact that we were able to directly support loved ones of our employees, in addition to our community, is particularly gratifying.”

In the public sector, police officers, Sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and other first responders, as well as workers at the Ozaukee County-owned Lasata Senior Housing Campus in Cedarburg, are in constant need of proper PPE, county Emergency Management Director Scott Ziegler said. He oversees the supply of PPE to public agencies.

“They can be very difficult to come by,” he said. “Occasionally, lightning will strike a little bit” with a donation.

He said he expects the situation to ease a bit within a month or so, based on conversations with suppliers. 

“As time marches on things should get a little better,” he said.

The need depends on the “burn rate,” the rate at which the supplies are used, he said.

“One of our fire departments had gone four days with no calls and then the next day they had like five or six calls in a short period of time; all were potentially a Covid call,” he said. “It’s not a consistent thing you can predict.”

Washington Ozaukee Public Health Officer Kirsten Johnson said Tuesday the department distributed 15,000 surgical masks to long-term care facilities in Ozaukee County.

The masks should cover the needs of these facilities for the next week, Johnson said.

The masks had been stockpiled by the department when the H1N1 flu swept the nation in 2009, Johnson said, and never used.

The department still has some of these masks and will re-evaluate the needs of the care facilities next week, she said.

Her department is working with the long-term care facilities while Ziegler’s office is working with local hospitals and other facilities, she said.

“It sounds like our first responders are in good shape,” she said.

Mike Kryshak said the demand for wipes has been extraordinary with his 70 employees working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We feel guilty because our business is flourishing while so many are suffering,” he said.

Misgen and Kryshak don’t expect demand to slacken for their companies’ products and that some customers’ habits have probably been permanently changed.

“A certain amount of people who never wiped down a shopping cart before will start using them the rest of their lives,” he said. 

Misgen said his company is looking to hire 40 to 50 more people to fill jobs in almost every capacity.

“We are not able to keep up with demand, which has quadrupled in some cases” since the coronavirus outbreak started, he said.

Ozaukee Press reporters Kristyn Halbig Ziehm and Mitch Maersch contributed to this story.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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