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UL Employees Sew Face Coverings to Help Keep Local Communities Safe

As personal protective equipment supplies ran low, UL employees gathered fabric and thread to help stanch COVID-19 infections.

A bowl of colorful buttons, elastic and a partially constructed face covering placed on a black background

June 19, 2020

The rapid spread of Covid-19 brought about increased demand for face coverings with the wearing of a face-covering quickly becoming our ‘new normal’.  As such, people from around the world dusted off sewing machines to make cloth face coverings. Several UL employees participated in the effort, making home-sewn cloth face coverings for family and friends. 

Denise Klinker, a staff engineer with UL’s Life and Health Sciences division, originally started sewing face coverings to help protect her family and friends. Once they had been well-supplied, Klinker started making face coverings for her community, donating approximately 85 face coverings to “Mask-ER-Aid,” a local Facebook group in her San Jose, California community. The group has donated more than 3,500 items, including face coverings, bouffant caps and ear tension relievers to local medical centers.  

Customer Service Professional Deanna Culley made approximately 120 face coverings for Columbia Springs, a local not-for-profit organization. Culley, who is also the corporate sustainability champion at UL’s Vancouver, Washington, facility, said that it takes her around 20 minutes to complete each face covering, from start to finish.  

Columbia Springs works closely with various community partners, such as A Caring Closet, Meals on Wheels and the ALS Association, to deliver the face coverings to local retirement homes, nursing homes and front-line workers in the community.  To date, the non-profit organization has collected over 5,000 face coverings and 1,500 ear savers.  

Some employees, such as UL’s Amanda Coutant, a software quality assurance group leader with UL’s Materials and Supply Chain division, used UL sponsored volunteer hours to create face coverings for a local physician’s office.  

“The timing was perfect as a friend had asked me to make a few face coverings since she knew I had a sewing machine,” Coutant said. “It is rare that I have the opportunity to use volunteer days due to work commitments.”  

UL has offered paid time off for UL sponsored volunteer opportunities for several years said Tina Vaughn, social sustainability manager, UL. UL’s Corporate Sustainability team worked with human resources to expand the volunteer time off program to allow employees to meet the needs of local communities through virtual activities.   

“Employees really wanted to help out,” Vaughn said.  “It was great to see so many employees use their sewing skills to share our mission in their community.” 

As the number of infections increased, demand for elastic, fabric and sewing supplies became scarce—even sewing machine repair services were in high demand. Tiffany Lehrman, an energy efficiency laboratory analyst with UL’s Product Engineering Services, used elastic hair ties to secure the face covering around the ears and pipe cleaners to pinch the fabric at the nose. 

“The first few face coverings took a while, but once you start making them and get a system, it goes a lot smoother, and you can speed up the process,” Lehrman said. “My goal was to make sure the face covering fit the person receiving it and that it was comfortable.”  

Angela Ouellette, a field engineer with UL, had everything she needed to start producing face coverings at home. She already owned a commercial embroidery machine and possessed the necessary skills to begin turning out quality face coverings immediately.

Ouellette estimated her contribution to the cause at over 1,000 since the first of April. She shared her latest, and maybe most important project to date—individual covers for each graduate in her son’s graduating high school class.  

Other UL employees worked together to share supply hacks and sewing tips such as how to make a fabric’s design appear upright, i.e., not upside down, or how to make face coverings for children. 

“We would discuss what we used for the nose piece, how it was sewn in, what we were using for filters and even the fabric that we used,” said Lori Samson, an energy efficiency laboratory analyst with UL’s Product Engineering Services business. “Another co-worker had a special fabric that she really liked; she asked me to make a few face coverings for her out of that fabric.” 

Nancy Barwegen, an administrative assistant who works with Lehrman and Samson at UL’s Newton, Iowa, facility, played with multiple patterns and styles and has even made her own variations as well.  

She’s experimented with elastic, hair ties and t-shirt bands to look for different fits. Some of her face coverings had filter pockets and some did not. “Not too many people are worried about the different elements,” Barwegen said. “As long as it covers and does the job, they’re happy.”