A scene at DigiStitch Embroidery Wednesday. CONTRIBUTED

Coronavirus: Small businesses meet huge need for face masks

In the era of coronavirus, face masks are no small thing. Health care professionals can’t test or treat patients with COVID-19 unless they have and wear face masks and protective gear.

That’s why a small Waynesville company is suddenly such a big deal.

DigiStitch Embroidery designs, embroiders and sews fabric from its shop on Township Line Road in Waynesville.

“The demand is very strong,” said Casey Huber, who runs the business with her boyfriend Eric Huber. (By coincidence, the two have the same last name.)

“Every day, we’re getting more requests for masks,” she said. “We never thought that we would be sewing together fabric in the way that we’re doing, let alone making masks for a pandemic.”

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Tim Huber and his wife Vicki, Eric’s parents, founded the company in March 2006 in Wilmington before moving the business to Waynesville in 2011. They handed the business off to Eric and Casey last April.

“My son has always thought outside of the box, and I’m very proud of him,” Tim said Wednesday. “It is very surreal.”

The company has digitized a face mask design and has produced about 175 masks as of Wednesday morning, to donate to Kettering Health Network and private health care providers who desperately need the items.

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They intend to produce hundreds more, about 400 on Wednesday alone, Casey said.

The need is great. In the United States alone, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that some 3.5 billion face masks are needed — a huge number.

“We now have everything in place to produce large quantities,” DigiStitch said on its Facebook page this week. “The only thing slowing us down is lack of materials. If you or anyone you know has spare 100 percent cotton fabric, elastics, or thin bias tape please send them our way! We are trying to make as many masks as we can while we are slow for nursing homes and hospitals that need them.”

The company is accepting donations of fabric and tape now. DigiStitch typically only embellishes already-sewn products, such as T-shirts.

Using the company’s current embroidery machines, the company is working with flat pieces of fabric and sewing with the machines.

Co-founder Tim Huber agreed that these masks are probably the most important product the company has ever made.

“I know that Eric has critiqued the design several times,” Tim said. “The two (Casey and Eric Huber) perfected the (design) as best they can and streamlined it for fast production.”

“We can’t make them fast enough,” Casey said.

Kettering Health Network is obtaining face masks from other sources as well.

Health network spokeswoman Elizabeth Long and Brenda Rex, director of the Dayton Sewing Collaborative, confirmed that the Health Network has reached an agreement with Goodwill/Easter Seals Miami Valley and the sewing collaborative on the local production of face masks

Long agreed it was gratifying to see local organizations pull together to address the ongoing need.

“We do appreciate the outpouring of support,” Long said this week. “I think it’s just so characteristic. We’re grateful for the people who want to help.”

The Dayton Development Coalition is asking Dayton-area companies to respond to a White House survey as the federal government seeks businesses who can provide and produce large-scale quantities of critical supplies to help the nation respond to the pandemic.

The coalition is asking companies who believe they can help to contact Mitch Heaton, coalition vice president of economic development, at mheaton@daytonregion.com.

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