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Seniors make face shields

Tech-Savvy Retirees to the Rescue!

Residents of an over-55 community in South Hillsborough County use 3D printers to make free face shields, other safety gear to fend off COVID-19

If the word retiree calls to mind bingo, crochet, and shuffleboard, you need to meet these people.

A couple of dozen residents of Valencia Lakes, an over-55 community in South Hillsborough County, are fashioning face shields, "ear savers," and face coverings on 3D printers and distributing them free for protection against the coronavirus.

Members of Handling the Future were making prosthetic hands and fingers when their president, Rich Brown, suggested they also make equipment that helps people cope with the pandemic. While some members still fashion prosthetics, tailored to a recipient's needs, the nonprofit group has produced more than 1,200 face shields - clear sheets of polycarbonate held in place by headbands - and 1,200 ear savers, which slip behind the head to hold the elastic loops of face coverings in place. The latter strips ease tension on the ears and are coveted by people who wear hearing aids.

Strawberries
Lenard Lewis monitors a 3D printer at his home in Valencia Lakes.

Since mid-March, the equipment has gone to workers at assisted living facilities, day-care centers, home health-care firms, hair salons, churches, school lunch rooms, fitness centers, dental offices, and a dialysis center. Handling the Future has offered its safety products to Hillsborough County Emergency Management, and the County has provided tables to support the group's manufacturing efforts. The group has donated face shields and ear savers to the Wounded Warriors organization, St. Joseph's Hospital-South ER, St. Joseph's Hospital-North Women's Health, and residents of Valencia Lakes and Sun City Center.

The headbands, ear savers, and face coverings are made of TPO, a biodegradable thermoplastic. When the devices wear out or break, they go in the trash without harming the environment.

Six or seven volunteers have printers at their homes. "As soon as I get up in the morning, I turn on the 3D printer," says volunteer Tom Bartello. Others assemble face shields, distribute the protective equipment, and solicit donations used to buy materials.

The group reaches out, and receives requests, through social media and the Valencia Lakes Property Owners Association. To replenish supplies, it asks for donations of $5 for a face shield and $1 for an ear-saver strip.

"We're really fortunate here," says Valencia Lakes volunteer Suanne Ackerman, who keeps track of who gets the completed protective gear, among other duties. "This is something we can do to help people."

Get Connected. Stay Alert.
For more information on COVID-19, and any other potential emergency in the county visit HCFLGov.net/StaySafe and sign up for the HCFL Alert system. Additionally, you can follow Hillsborough County on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor for updates. For general County information, call (813) 272-5900, the County's main information line.

Top photo: Handling the Future members, left to right, Nancy Bartello, Tom Bartello, and Leslie Stull assemble face shields.