From left, Josh Montgomery, Nate Luke and Rebecca Griffith work on an assembly line for face shields Friday morning at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Josh Montgomery, Nate Luke and Rebecca Griffith work on an assembly line for face shields Friday morning at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
As the nation faces a shortage of personal protective equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of educators and other volunteers from across southern Ohio are doing their part to help. Led by two Highland County educators, the Southern Ohio Makers Against COVID Coalition has begun 3D printing, assembling and sanitizing face shields for medical organizations.

The coalition is headed by Josh Montgomery, a computer science professor at Southern State Community College, and Nate Luke, a computer technology teacher at McClain High School. Within just a couple of weeks, they’ve managed to organize a team of 50 individuals and counting — primarily educators — who have access to 126 3D printers, and they’ve taken requests for 3,300 face shields from 30 separate medical organizations across southern Ohio.

Originally, Montgomery and Luke started with roughly the same idea at the same time.



“I contacted my nursing director at Southern State,” Montgomery told The Highland County Press April 7. “I saw these face shields online people were printing about a week and a half ago. I printed off one face shield to test out and was going to send it as a prototype to our health care areas about a week and a half ago.”

It just so happened that Luke was working on a similar project and reached out to Montgomery. Luke said that the Highland County Health Department had contacted him and that he had a couple of 3D printers he thought that could be used.

“We said, let’s partner up together, and just the two of us posted something online,” Montgomery said. “At that time, it was just the two of trying to help a couple hospitals, and we just got flooded with people that want to help.”

Based on the immediate response from the community, Montgomery and Luke decided to facilitate the project on a larger scale, enlisting other teachers and others in the community with 3D printers to help. Montgomery said it has been “a pretty wild journey” thus far.

“We started this small little thing, just the two of us collaborating,” Montgomery said. “It just became a big thing. I think the biggest key piece is just a lot of people want to help, when we put out some of the things that we were doing on Facebook.”

The coalition’s “builders,” as they call them, are working to 3D print pieces and coordinating with Montgomery and Luke for three different drop-off locations. Montgomery said they were happy to work with anyone who had access to a 3D printer but estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the builders are educators.

“All these other teachers are contacting Nate and I,” he said. “I’ve done a couple Zoom sessions with a couple different teachers at Court House and Miami Trace, and I know Nate has as well, to help them. Paint Valley is doing a ton of printing, and they’ve contacted us several times.”

Montgomery and Luke also met with Great Oaks teachers to explain the project, with about 10 of those educators joining within the first two days of learning about the coalition. Another local educator, Hillsboro’s Eric Hennison, took the school’s 3D printers home to begin making the shields.

After the state ordered the closure of schools due to the pandemic, Montgomery and Luke thought that other teachers might have similar feelings that they were experiencing, including a desire to help.

“It occurred to me that teachers miss their students. They miss the engagements. They miss contributing,” Montgomery said. “When we’re isolated, it really takes us away from our element. I thought, I bet there’s a lot of 3D printers in schools right now that are not being utilized, and guess what? There was.”

Luke said the response has been “pretty amazing” thus far. “All day long, I get texts from people, Facebook messages from people,” he said.

Both Montgomery and Luke agreed that it’s helped them as well as they’ve dealt with the shift to working from home and being isolated from their students and coworkers.

“It feels great to be doing something like that that we hope is helpful,” Montgomery said. “I was feeling pretty bad after I was taken out of my classroom, pretty depressed.

“Getting an opportunity to do something like this that’s beneficial has helped my mental state, for sure.”

“It’s just been good to try to take my mind off the news and put that energy toward something positive and something that’s going to help others out during all this craziness,” Luke added. “That’s been really beneficial for me, too. That’s the best thing that I’m getting out of it.”

Although there is no shortage of individuals wanting to help with printing, Montgomery said the first step was funding the project, since it’s run by a group of volunteers. He said in his experience, filament required for the printers was “running out really quick.” His wife’s employer, Hillsboro attorney Susan Davis — who runs her own nonprofit organization, Soles for Students — not only helped them set up a donation stream, but she assisted with some of the legal hurdles as well.

“She said, ‘I have an account, Soles for Students. I’ll create something for you guys and I’ll set everything up for you,’” Montgomery said. “I said, ‘How do we do liabilities? How do we protect ourselves?’ She’s like, ‘I’ve got it.’ She built a clause for us. Nate and I built this medical form where any organization in southern Ohio could apply for it, and they sign off on that waiver and say how many face shields they want.”

Both men also credited SSCC library service coordinator Rebecca Griffith with being a key part of the coalition’s success thus far, as she works in the lab with them every day.

“She’s probably in there more than us a lot of times, working extremely hard,” Luke said.

Griffith got involved after Montgomery contacted her seeking plastic for the face shields. “She showed up with a little bit of plastic, and then she hasn’t left,” he said, laughing. “We’ve taught her how to print and load filament.

“We’re pretty much running our printers 18 hours a day, so we don’t have a lot of downtime as we swap filament and continue printing these, so we’ve got a lot of printers running right now.”

People have helped in other ways, including a graphic design teacher from Pickaway-Ross volunteering to design a logo for the coalition’s Facebook page and assisting with T-shirt design. Luke said he has been working to secure donations — including receiving a $1,500 donation recently — and added that even members of the Mennonite community have heard about the project and offered to help.

“They had some elastic that they wanted to give to us,” Luke said. “It’s crazy, all the different people who are reaching out. It’s exciting and a great thing.”

Highland Computer Forms in Hillsboro has also gotten involved with the face shields’ assembly, with Griffith enlisting their help to hole-punch pieces of plastic. As far as other materials, Luke said that the schools associated with the coalition have been a huge help as well, donating old laminate to be used for the shields once they figured out the right material. Montgomery said McClain and Chillicothe alone each donated hundreds of sheets.

“A lot of it was just simple overhead projector laminate that they used to use,” Luke said. “That was probably the hardest part at the start, finding the exact right stuff that we needed for that, but it’s actually been the easiest part, the last few days.”

The coalition’s schedule currently includes drop-off of materials on Wednesdays, then assembling the shields on Fridays. The team of volunteers held their first assembly day Friday, April 10 at the Southern State Community College Patriot Center, where they assembled 650 shields.

Workers ran sanders outside, and inside the building volunteers finished assembling the shields. SSCC nursing program director Julie Krebs and nursing professor Melissa Gillespie oversaw the shields’ sanitization, the final step in the assembly line process. The coalitions hopes to finish even more face shields during their next work day.

After letting the sanitized shields sit over the weekend, they will begin filling orders, delivering the completed shields on Mondays.

“I definitely think one of the good things about organizing everything into one centralized spot and having us distribute from there is not only are these hospitals and these health care organizations getting these things physically, but we are also taking a lot of the organizational and logistical work out of their hands,” Luke said. “They’re busy enough right now as it is. It’s another way to save them time and effort from having to focus on actually getting these things.”

For those in the community interested in assisting the coalition, they are seeking monetary donations along with donations of half-inch, three-quarter-inch or one-inch braided elastic.

“We don’t want to resort to having health care workers have to use rubber bands to keep these things on the back,” Luke said. “Elastic would go an extremely long way in helping them out and keeping them comfortable while wearing them.”

Montgomery said they have received a couple thousand dollars in donations already but will need more money to keep up with the demand from health care organizations.

“It costs all of our makers about $1 to $1.50 per print,” Montgomery said. “That is over $3,000 in costs to our builders, and we are needing money.”

For information on how to donate or volunteer, plus other photos and updates, visit the SOMACC Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SouthernOhioMakersAgainstCOVIDCoalition.

“For everyone that’s helped so far, we are incredibly appreciative and very thankful for their help, both big and small,” Luke said.