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Serving nation in crisis

Pool company owner: Providing free masks is patriotic duty

YOUNGSTOWN — Gary Crandall says the COVID-19 pandemic stirred his patriotism, just as it did when America fought in the Gulf War in the early 1990s when his company produced solar shades for American tanks.

Several weeks ago, he realized his company, GLI Pool Products, which makes pool liners and safety covers, could make cloth masks to help protect first responders from the virus.

So he turned the cut-and-sew side of his business over to making two-ply masks. “We went on Google and learned how to make masks, and we began searching for people in need,” he said. The masks rolled out March 23.

But workers realized they could cut the fabric faster than sew the pieces together, so they went to the public to ask for help from people willing to sew.

The first batch of helpers came to the Sinter Court facility last week. Most signed up ahead of time by emailing www.staysafe@ glipoolproducts.com. The process repeated itself on Thursday with many of the people from last week returning to turn in finished masks and obtain additional kits. The kits can also be dropped off in a bin near the front entrance.

Eighty-six cars picked up kits last week, and more than 100 people registered to pick up kits Thursday.

“I wanted to help in some way, so this is what I wanted to do,” said Shelly Nicoloff of Salem, a nurse not working right now because her patients receive elective procedures that are being rescheduled until after the virus crisis is over.

“There are so many on the frontlines. So if I can’t be on the frontlines, I want to help those who are,” she said.

Kathy Calvin of Salem arrived Thursday with the 50 masks she sewed since last week and was taking home 50 more Thursday.

“It takes about 10 to 12 minutes each,” she said of the sewing. “Even an intermediate sewer can do it.” Calvin has been sewing for 30 years and has a sewing room at home.

Calvin said being able to help is a win-win: “I’m doing something I love doing and making a tiny bit of difference.”

Marsha Stanhope of Kinsman said she’s laid off from work, “so I had time on my hands.” She is an adviser for 4-H and has a 4-H sewing club, so this activity “just fits in. I’ve been making masks already, so it fits in with what I’ve been doing already.”

Crandall said when the masks are donated, the recipients are advised to wash them first.

Crandall’s goal of making 100,000 masks has already been surpassed, and he expects to reach 120,000 by sometime today.

The company has a machine that cuts the fabric, and the fabric has all been donated. Neighboring company Graybar Youngstown is providing the wire that wraps around the nose on the top of the mask, and Gasser Chair of Youngstown also is cutting fabric.

GLI is donating everything else, including labor, while still operating the pool part of the business.

As for the organizations receiving the masks, they are hospitals, local police and fire departments, nursing homes and other first responders. Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown has taken some for first responders.

“These are not surgical masks, but any mask is popular right now,” Crandall said. “People have asked if they can pay” for them, but Crandall is not accepting payment. They are only for first responders.

“When you speak to the police departments and fire departments, they say you can’t believe how badly we need these,” Crandall said.

As he worked with a few employees in front of the factory to help people drop off and pick up masks and kits, Crandall looked out at the cars and said, “A lot of patriots.”

“We are committed to doing what is needed until they are no longer needed,” Crandall said of the masks. When he was asked why he took such an interest in this project, Crandall said, “Just stepping up. Somebody needed to do it.”

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