“They are good people, but have made some bad decisions in the past. This has been a life saver.”
In March, members of the Artisan’s Asylum started making personal protective equipment (PPE) from their space in Somerville. In early June, the team moved to a facility in Lower Allston to advance production of their gowns and face shields.
As organizers of the operation suggest, and domestic supply shortages show, the supply chain that typically feeds medical facilities with PPE is fragile. There are few outfits fit for the task, and Gowntown in Lower Allston is one of them. As of July, its crew has created 18,000 isolation gowns and distributed them through GetUsPPE, a “grassroots movement founded by physicians and medical researchers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” to nursing homes and hospitals across Mass and the US.
Production is handled by no more than 10 people at a time, a majority of them volunteers, between three daily shifts. Led by chef Jay Diengott and artist Karen Cornish, the creation of these gowns includes various tasks such as fabric folding, gown cutting, and packaging. With help from a $77,000 grant from GetUsPPE, Artisan’s Asylum has been able to hire some workers, including participants in the City of Somerville’s immigrant-focused Welcome Project and Boston’s Office of Returning Citizens, a reentry initiative helping people “take healthy steps in their lives.”
“I’m fresh out of prison and it’s hard to get a job,” said Lacey, who works at Gowntown. “This has been an opportunity to gain some skills. No one else would hire me, since I am a felon. It is really sad since a lot of people out of prison are ready to work. They are good people, but have made some bad decisions in the past. This has been a life saver.”
PQ worked in fiber arts at Artisan’s Asylum, and took on a leadership position in the gown production, which is intended to continue through the end of September. They built a template that is now accessible for others to use; using a variety of water-resistant materials, including Tyvek, gowns are now made under the guidance of PQ, who wanted to create a welcoming space and encourages volunteers from a variety of backgrounds to join the cause.
“It’s important that this space promotes a diverse community,” PQ said. “If we can have volunteers, employ those disenfranchised, and give back, then that’s what we can do, but we strive for better everyday.”
The author is a volunteer at the current PPE production facility. Those interested in a volunteer shift can sign up here.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
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Samer Khudairi is a freelance journalist who covers design, music, action sports, and craft beer. His name means the person who tells stories at night. Samer abides by the mantra, 'live all the lives. love all the peoples.'