Shield Our Heroes volunteers assembled and delivered personal protective equipment (PPE) to over 60 hospitals and other organizations in northern New Jersey during the pandemic.

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BMS Foundation grant supports Montclair State University’s shield our heroes COVID-19 initiative 

Volunteers produce personal protective equipment for healthcare workers

With support from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Montclair State University’s Shield Our Heroes volunteer initiative produced more than 32,000 units of personal protective equipment (PPE) for over 60 hospitals, nursing homes and other organizations in northern New Jersey as the COVID-19 pandemic reached its peak in the U.S. 

“Our aim was to meet the demand of our partners and to continue production for as long as needed to help workers at the frontline,” Brianne Baird, assistant vice president of MSU corporate and foundation relations, said. 

The seven-week initiative, led by MSU’s Making and Innovating for X (MIX) Lab and DesignShed, parent organization of Montclair Design Week, had over 200 volunteers, including MSU students, faculty and community members. Baird said all of the volunteers were enthusiastic to help their local community even during challenging times. 

Our aim was to meet the demand of our partners and to continue production for as long as needed to help workers at the frontline.
Brianne Baird

Volunteers delivered mass units of PPE to hospitals and medical centers such as Christ Hospital in Elizabeth, New Jersey, University Hospital Newark, Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside and more. 

“The first shipment of PPE that we delivered was met by tears from some of the frontline workers,” Baird said. “It was a humbling experience and a proud one to know that we were able to assist our community in this way.” 

MSU’s MIX Lab managed the initiative’s 3-D printing while the PPE was put together by volunteers in the Montclair Innovation Lab, opened by MSU’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in March. Volunteers practiced social distancing in the lab while wearing masks and gloves and working in shifts of two to three hours. 

Bristol Myers Squibb has a strong relationship with MSU, providing educational and professional support for K-12 STEM teachers in New Jersey. So, as the initiative faced a shortage in supplies and an increased demand for PPE, MSU contacted the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation for support. 

“We knew we could turn to BMS not only because of its longstanding partnership with Montclair State, but also because we know the company has a deep commitment to the community at large,” Baird said. “The generosity of BMS and the BMS Foundation allowed us to act quickly when we were able to find new materials and helped to ensure that we could continue to produce PPE for as long as our partners needed.” 

Operations evolved early in the initiative as the volunteer groups discovered better strategies to produce more PPE while spending less. Also partnering with William Paterson University, the lab was able to use an open-source design with less 3-D printing required, cutting the cost of materials from five dollars per unit to one dollar per unit. Volunteers also went from producing 350 units of PPE a day to 1,500 units a day.  

The new design created more availability to use the 3-D printers, so Shield Our Heroes also began producing “o” ring connectors for local hospitals, which extend IV tubes and prototypes of ventilator splitters, allowing one ventilator to be shared between two patients. 

Shield Our Heroes suspended production on May 27 but has kept remaining supplies in case they are needed during the fall and winter. Baird said the volunteers will resume production if needed and have enough materials on hand to produce close to 6,000 units of PPE.