Downriver residents lend a hand in a time of crisis

By Shannon Rossi 

One thing can be said, without a doubt, about the Downriver community, they step up to help when there is a need.

Cheryl Zemke of Riverview and Todd and Patti Duffett of Grosse Ile have been following the news about the problems hospitals and first responders have been having in getting adequate amounts of protective gear for treating patients that have been hospitalized due to complications from COVID-19.

Zemke is a fashion designer and owner of C. Creations Sewing and Design.

Todd Duffett, a sales engineer and a self-described 3D printing and electronics tinkerer.

Both Zemke and Duffett first learned about the desperate need for protective gear via sources in New York.

“I first heard about what was happening in New York,” Zwmke said. “People were talking about hospitals not having enough masks for staff.”

Duffett saw an article in a Syracuse, New York newspaper about a company in New York State, Budmen Industries, that was trying to unite those in the general public who enjoyed working with 3D printers.

The number of COVID-19 cases has steadily grown since the first two cases were announced by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on March 10. Wayne County has so far been hit the hardest with the largest number of cases in the state.

Lack of adequate protective gear for medical personnel on the front lines of this crisis also has been in the news.

“I immediately thought that making masks was something I could easily convert my business to,” Zemke said.

Zemke has completely converted her fashion design business over to creating masks for healthcare workers.

The Duffetts had a similar idea.

“I have a 3D printer and I thought I could help in a similar way to what Budmen Industries in New York is doing, but with a focus on our local community needs,” Duffett said.

Duffett’s sister and niece created a Facebook page for their group, Operation Face Shield – Downriver.

Although people began talking about creating homemade masks and donating them to healthcare facilities, Zemke heard from several sources that doctors and nurses would not use these homemade masks.

But Zemke later saw a post on Facebook about nurses being able to accept masks. She also made her own video tutorial, available to view by searching “Sewing a Deaconess Style Mask” on YouTube.

“The style I am doing is meant to go over the top of the N95 masks that health care workers use,” said Zemke. “They are meant to lengthen and protect the life of the N95 masks, not replace them. They’re also not intended for people to use when they go out.”

The masks use simple sewing supplies that are usually readily available at fabric and craft stores, including fabric, twist wire, and elastic.

“One of my clients has a niece who is a nurse at U of M hospital. She said her niece would love to have a mask.”

Zemke committed to giving her a few masks for a 14 hour shift. She also inquired about making a few extra for the other nurses on this person’s floor.

“I didn’t know anything about the numbers of nurses on a single floor. And I found out that there are 250 nurses just on this one person’s floor,” Zemke said.

At that point, she knew the need was dire.

“It hit me in the gut,” she said.

Zemke has gotten requests for masks from many healthcare facilities in the area.

Requests for Operation Face Shield – Downriver have come from individuals through word of mouth referrals.

“Many are for nurses or EMTs that are at smaller facilities that don’t have the resources,” Duffett said.

Zemke said: “It would be helpful if I had someone else home to work with me. I can’t make as many on my own.”

She put out a call on Facebook March 27 for assistance with any step in the process of creating these face masks.

“I reached out to my sewing groups and others on Facebook,” she said. “Everyone has been so supportive in the community.”

Even if people don’t sew there are many ways that they’ve stepped up to help with this mission. People have donated money for supplies, have offered to cut fabric or run out to get supplies and deliver them to sewers.

The masks are made with simple supplies and inexpensive supplies, like fabric, wire twist ties, and elastic, that can usually be purchased at fabric or craft stores.

A single 3D printed mask costs only $5. 

The visor is printed on a 3D printer using a filament called PLA. According to Duffett, it is an easy to use material and one of the lower cost options available. The shield screen is made from clear plastic, and elastic and foam rubber strips for the headband.

“We have used mylar, vinyl and acetate sheets, whatever we can get our hands on that can be safely cleaned with bleach,” Duffett said.

“The clear plastic for the face covering is in short supply, as is elastic,” he said. “We have resorted to cutting girls’ headbands in half or using really long rubber bands as an alternative. Anything in a pinch.”

Downriver has come together to help provide for those working hard to save lives in this time of need.

As of March 31, Zemke had made 348 masks.

The Duffetts delivered or shipped 25 masks before running out of the clear plastic needed for the face covering.

“We keep printing and have materials on order thanks to several generous donations,” Duffett said.

“For years, I’ve known that sewers are the most compassionate and responsive people you will ever meet. The sewers I know don’t hesitate to help out sewing gowns and caps for premature babies, pillowcases for Motts Children’s Hospital, blankets for the homeless,” Zemke said.

“The list goes on and on, but how they have responded during the COVID-19 crisis warms my heart. It really shows how much our community can and does come together.”

The Duffetts, too, want to emphasize the generosity of the community.

“I am amazed at the support we are getting,” Duffett said. “The encouraging feedback helps at 4 a.m. when I can’t sleep and am running the 3D printer, listening to the news.”

To get involved in any part of the mask making process, visit the COVID Mask Crafters group on Facebook, Cheryl Zemke’s website, or via her email at

Information about getting involved with Operation Face Shield – Downriver is available on their Facebook page. Budmen Industries also has all of the specifications for making a 3D printed face shield available on their website,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *