Personal protection

Vice president of Minuteman Press in Waunakee, Chrispin Kenney dons a face mask produced at his facility on South Street. The mask is one of thousands that the business has produced since March.

Minuteman Press has been producing face masks at its Waunakee facility to combat a shortage of personal protective equipment in the area. However, its owners have refused to sell them.

They’ve resolved to donate the masks to essential businesses instead.

Vice president Chrispin Kenney said the decision stemmed from his company’s desire to support the community which has allowed it to remain in operation for the past 60 years.

“That’s how long this printer has been here,” Kenney said. “And taking care of the people around you just seems like the right thing to do, even if they’re not the ones buying from you. Paying it forward is a good way to look at it. But for us, it was more about how we could help.”

Kenney said the company considered producing scrubs for hospitals, but lacked the necessary machinery to do so. Team members agreed that making face masks would be more practical.

The only hitch was, the facility had never produced the masks before.

The vice president admitted that developing a method to create the facial coverings was largely an experimental process, and one which required ingenuity from those within the company.

“We didn’t make masks before this,” Kenney said. “It wasn’t something that we had done. But we wanted to help. So the goal was to figure out how we could do it… It was kind of trial and error. That’s the best way to put it.”

First they needed to find a fabric which would secure the mask onto the user’s face. Like other personal-protective-equipment items, elastic was in short supply.

The team theorized that other materials could serve the same purpose.

“We couldn’t figure out what we were going to do for the ear piece,” Kenney said. “Elastic during the COVID crisis was really scarce, in the sense of elastic bands for masks. So we decided to use rubber bands. And we were able to get those in bulk.”

Employees had to brainstorm ways to produce the masks efficiently as well. Kenney noted that the first 300 masks were sewn by hand, resulting in a turnaround time of one to two weeks.

Stapling the pieces of fabric together was found to expedite the process.

“It’s not an automated machine or anything that makes them,” Kenney said. “So it takes a bit of time. But it’s amazing what our team was able to get it down to. It used to take us a minute each. They were able to get it so that we can get a few done in a minute.”

Since refining the production process, Kenney said his facility has been able to turn out 750-1000 masks a week. More than 8,000 masks have been distributed as a result of those efforts.

Donations have gone to first responders, community centers, area grocers and other organizations.

EMTs and paramedics have even used the masks to protect passengers inside their ambulances, Kenney said, leaving them with less to worry about as loved ones are transported to the hospital.

“Our business is down 80 percent,” Kenney said. “But even with the business being down, we were able to stay afloat as a family and take care of ourselves. So we just figured, why not help the community? That’s why we’re still making them to this day.”

Organizations in need of masks can contact Kenney via email at chrispin@minutemanpress.com, or call the print shop directly at (608) 849-4831.

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