Breathe easy - Gresham company shifts to making masks for pandemic
Two weeks ago, a Gresham business that made backyard games pivoted away from its normal line of fun and began to handcraft protective masks.
The change wasn't to make a quick buck, or to profit off a tragedy like so many others have across the country. Instead, Calibration Cornhole Co. — makers of the game in which the goal is to chuck a beanbag into a hole in a board — wanted to do its part to uplift and support vulnerable community members. The goal was to protect people in Gresham and across the region, especially those on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.
So they began sewing, and sewing, and sewing some more. It was a way for Michele Hetrick, owner of Calibration and a Centennial School District teacher by day, to practice what she teaches her students.
"I tell them, when facing an emergency, you can either step-up or step-out," Hetrick said. "This was my opportunity to walk the walk and do my part to make the world a better place."
The first wave of orders had requests for 1,300 masks. As of Wednesday morning, April 8, the team had completed 884 in about one week of sewing. All of the cotton masks are free, though they accept donations to help offset costs. They are perfect for protecting key personnel across the state, as well as community members venturing out on errands.
Calibration was founded last October as the go-to Gresham location for all your cornhole needs. They make beautiful wooden boards with different designs, custom bags and any other equipment needed to perfect your game. Calibration also would host weekly tournaments at Ponderosa Lounge & Grill in Portland.
But they were hit by the social distancing orders that have stymied so many small businesses in Oregon, and the tournaments were shuttered for the time being, leading to the decision to craft masks.
"We are just a small community group trying to make a difference," Hetrick said.
Pivoting to masks
Hetrick isn't a seamstress by trade, though she learned to create the bean bags used in cornhole to support her burgeoning business.
But through the process of making the masks, she has become something of an expert.
"It was really difficult when I first started," she said. "But now I can make one in 2 minutes and 30 seconds."
Her team consists of four regular sewers, including Hetrick, though others come and go when they are able.
The first major donation was 100 masks to Providence Portland Medical Center at the beginning of the month. Since then, masks have gone to Gresham Fire & Emergency Services, homeless shelters, local nurses, pet clinics, grocery stores across the region, and so many more, including shipments to Arizona and Washington.
Law enforcement, Oregon Health & Science University, a local emergency response team and many residential care facilities have reached out, as have a flood of community members who want a way to protect their loved ones.
Often Hetrick has found herself sewing until 1 a.m. to keep up with orders. But she is quick to point out how much support she has received.
"This project is bigger than just us — the whole community is on board," she said.
Community over competition
The most notable partner for Calibration has been Montavilla Sewing Centers, which have a Gresham location at 971 N.E. Kelly Ave.
Montavilla Sewing has become the distribution and donation collection hub, coordinating deliveries and working with Hetrick to keep things running smoothly.
"We want to help the community," said manager Carri Garvey. "Most of the orders are from people wanting to protect their family and friends."
Individuals also are pitching in. A mother of one of Hetrick's former students swung by the other day to wash, iron and cut donated fabric to help the process.
The team also is able to give advice to those looking to make their own masks. The main suggestion is to stray away from elastic, which has seen prices skyrocket online with the high demand. Hetrick used to be able to buy a roll for $15 online, though now costs have more than doubled.
Instead, Garvey suggests using a different material like ties, cord or even shoe string.
"It doesn't have to be pretty, just functional," she said.
Home sewers able to pitch into the Calibration-helmed effort also are welcome.
"Even if you are only able to make five in an hour, that can make a huge difference," Hetrick said.
That support will be even more important in the near future. Online classes start up next week, so her days will be spent virtually with her students. That means her sewing hours will be pushed to the evenings, with other volunteers trying to fill orders during the day.
But Hetrick said she doesn't plan on stopping until the novel coronavirus is a distant memory.
"The people on the frontlines of this crisis are the tradespeople moving this country forward," she said. "They need our support."
You can also drop off supplies at any Montavilla Sewing Center, including the Gresham location at 971 N.E. Kelly Ave.
Calibration is also still making cornhole boards, so if your family wants a fun diversion during social isolation message on Facebook
"Cornhole is the perfect game to be playing right now," Hetrick said.
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