Dave Kasler (right) cuts fabric for the masks while talking with Dr. Tim LaVelle in the work room of Zonez.

What began as a phone call and an odd request to purchase 500 t-shirts, has turned into a project between three local businesses to provide medical masks for healthcare workers.

Dave Kasler owns Zonez, a promotional printing business in Athens. Last week Kasler received a phone call from Dr. Tim LaVelle who stated that he and his partners at Athens Dental Arts wanted to purchase all of the discontinued shirts at Zonez.

“What are you going to do with 500 discontinued t-shirts?” Kasler said he asked LaVelle.

LaVelle told Kasler of his plan to turn the t-shirts into medical-grade masks for the healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. The dentists at Athens Dental Arts, Drs. Beth Welsch, Seth Cooper and LaVelle came up with the idea after donating their extra personal protective equipment (PPE) to O’Bleness Hospital.

“We’ve all been trying to think of what we could do other than the PPE that we’ve given,” LaVelle said. “We just felt like we could do more.”

The dentists came up with the idea to make masks utilizing t-shirts with a center layer of material used to wrap up medical equipment after it’s been sterilized. The dental practice had the equipment in abundance and has since ordered more. The center layer will work as a filter and be replaceable in between patients.

Once Kasler was involved with the project through his t-shirts, he reached out to a third Athens business, Athens Tailoring, operated by Yuka Kennedy.

“I knew she was a good seamstress,” Kasler said. Kennedy currently is not taking customer orders, as she has COPD and is being cautious during the pandemic. Kasler was able to arrange for ways to get the material to Kennedy without putting her at risk.

LaVelle said that the pattern Kennedy will use for the masks came from a medical website and that the project has been approved by OhioHealth.

Kasler spent time this week cutting discontinued t-shirts from local high school events into workable material for Kennedy, who will then sew the masks. Once completed Kasler and LaVelle will pick up and distribute the masks for use at O’Bleness and other healthcare facilities. They hope to complete 500 masks in the first week.

“She’s going to sew as fast as she can, but we still need help,” Kasler said. Currently they are searching for volunteers to help with the sewing. Interested parties can reach out to Kasler at 740-592-3993. They are also taking monetary donations for the project.

The need for PPE is at an all-time high. Many people have taken to sewing their own masks, or making masks for donation. Kasler said that during senior shopping hours at the grocery store, he noticed the majority of shoppers were wearing masks.

“Based on what I see happening, I fear the situation is only going to get worse,” Kasler said. “Anything that anybody can do to help in any way...that’s what we need to be doing.”

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