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Nelson Gifts in Steubenville producing face shields for those on front lines of virus fight

ALL IN A NIGHT’S WORK — A cutout of Steubenville native Dean Martin wearing a mask sits inside Leonardo’s Coffeehouse in downtown Steubenville. Nelson Gifts founder Mark Nelson said they started manufacturing face shields about a week ago and are offering them for sale. -- Andrew Grimm

STEUBENVILLE — A local firm has adapted its mechanical footprint to produce much-needed face shields for health care providers.

Nelson Gifts founder Mark Nelson said they started manufacturing the face shields about a week ago.

“My wife, Gretchen, showed me a picture of one online, told me how there was a shortage and asked me if we could make them,” she said. “I figured out over that evening how we could do it, then spent a couple of days bringing in supplies.”

He said it’s a multi-step process, but he’s hoping to be able to turn out “hundreds per day.”

“We’re still trying to ramp up to that,” he said. “We actually had to make a couple of machines, change some things on machines to do it. We cleared space out in our showroom, actually, to set up a clean space in order to manufacture them. We had to redo a lot of things in the building, just to get things ready.”

The shields meet the requirements of health care professionals, he noted, pointing out his design features a label across the front with “four or five different messages of hope, like ‘Have hope,’ ‘Be strong and courageous,’ ‘We’re all in this together’ and ‘We will get through this,’ so anyone who is wearing one is passing on a friendly message, an encouraging message, to their neighbor.”

Nelson said there’s a definite market for them: Online orders are already coming in from nursing homes, fire departments, bus and taxi companies, hardware stores and factories across the country, and he’s also been added to the state’s supply chain.

“Right now, orders have been word of mouth,” he said. “We’re moving quite a few through the Pittsburgh market. We’re trying to match manufacturing with requests, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We’re sitting on a lot of materials, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of orders.”

They’re priced at about half what some companies are selling them for online.

Nelson said some buyers told him they’d ordered from other companies but were put on back order, “so they were happy to get them into their hands, be able to put them into use of their employees.”

“We actually sent some shields into New York, some local nurses were going up to work in Manhattan, actually, so we sent a box of face shields up that we donated,” he said, adding he also “donated dozens to organizations in need.”

“We’re also helping a nursing home in Beaver, Pa., with 50 virus cases right now,” he added.

His team is also working on other products, including one that would assist caregivers during the intubation process.

“We’re developing a product that they’re looking at in Pittsburgh, an intubation chamber or box,” he said. “It’s very new for us. The original concept, I believe, came out of Korea. Some doctors asked us to make some for them. We haven’t sold any yet, but we have developed prototypes.”

They’ve also had palm branches blessed and shipped to nursing home patients and shut-ins around the country for whom they are an important symbol of their faith during the Easter holiday and developed what he calls “Yard Signs of Hope” to encourage people living in hard-hit areas.

Nelson said being able to shift production when a need arises is indicative of “the beauty of American business and American ingenuity, being part of a proud family of American makers who are willing to figure it out. And I mean the nationwide family of makers — our country has a long history of solving problems.”

He also said his family and employees “are all very happy to be able to help in some way.”

“We’re actually able to provide tools that keep people safe,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to be involved in an effort of this magnitude, supplying items for the front lines like this,” he said.

“I’d say we’re proud, humbled and honored to help in a little way, to hopefully help somebody. Our employees have all expressed to me their joy in being able to concretely help others during this epidemic.”

The shields are available through his website, nelsongiftswholesale.com, or at Leonardo’s on Fourth Street and at M&M Hardware.

“This whole epidemic has really showed a weakness, not only in our country’s inventory but also in our entire supply chain — not only for medical devices, but other supplies and products, the raw materials as well,” he said.

“We’ll continue production until the need ends. We’ll do it as long as we need to.”

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