Utilizing its extensive textile operations and its team of experienced sewing operators, many of whom are blind, NIB associated nonprofit agency IFB Solutions is manufacturing thousands of cloth face masks to aid in the fight against COVID-19. The masks are being made for the United States Air Force and general public, and donated to VA hospitals.
Based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, IFB is one of the largest employers of people who are blind or visually impaired in the U.S. The agency produces a wide variety of goods for the federal government, including apparel, mattresses, and office supplies.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been honored to do our part and produce important PPE for the U.S. military, for the public, and for our veterans at VA hospitals, all while working to keep our employees safe,” says IFB President and CEO David Horton.
IFB is one of six Ability One-participating agencies working to deliver up to 576,000 masks under a contract with the U.S. Air Force. Horton says his team was ready when the first purchase order for 10,000 masks came in on April 23.
“We had already set up a line for masks that we were making for our own employees, so the switch was easy,” he says. More than 25 employees moved to the production line making masks for the Air Force.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to protect themselves and their co-workers,” says Horton. The agency is now selling masks to the general public through its online retail store.
The washable, 100% cotton knit masks are available in packs of 50, with larger packs of 500 masks also available. Each sale helps provide employment for people who are blind or visually impaired.
While pleased to be able to boost mask production and create jobs in the process, Horton emphasizes that IFB is also mindful of the danger posed by COVID-19 and is doing everything it can to keep employees safe and healthy.
Among steps IFB has taken to ensure the well-being of its employees is setting up a Coronavirus Response Team that handles communications, policies, and safety. The agency also provides free health care and consultation through its on-site medical staff for employees who have questions about COVID-19 or are coping with high-risk conditions.
In addition, the agency enforces a strict social distancing policy, routinely sanitizes all work areas, strongly encourages employees to wear masks, and requires temperature checks before entering the building.
Among those working on IFB’s mask production line is Winter Robinson, 25, who is visually impaired and deaf in one ear.
Robinson, who previously worked in the agency’s optical lab before being retrained to join the mask production team, has family members serving in the Army and Navy, including several who have served in combat.
“I can’t see, so I can’t serve, but I can help out by making these masks,” he says. “I love knowing I can contribute something. This job gives me an opportunity to keep working, earn a paycheck, and support my community.” Robinson’s sentiments are typical of those Horton hears from agency employees each day. “I am thankful for their commitment to IFB and our mission,” he says. “We are truly a family.”