Furniture companies in North Carolina have a long history of helping their communities, and Baker Furniture is no exception. With a track record that goes as far back as making wing gliders, ammo cases and radio casings in World War II, Baker is now stepping up and creating masks and gowns for local communities and healthcare workers to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The inspiration for the masks came from a “how-to” video on YouTube that had a downloadable template. Baker’s team created a prototype, refined it and then offered the finished product to hospitals and their local communities. Why take on this challenge? “As a furniture company with two factories and deep roots in the North Carolina community, we feel it is our duty to use our resources to address the urgent need for personal protective masks and gowns,” said CEO and NC State ISE alumnus Mike Jolly.
This initiative hasn’t just helped hospitals, but the communities of High Point and Connelly Springs as well. Baker Furniture’s care for the community goes beyond their factory. “Our big focus is pedestrian masks for you and me to go to the grocery store with,” said ISE alumna Debbie Beeker, who is leading most of the implementation of manufacturing the reusable masks and disposable gowns at Baker.
Baker has been able to produce the masks inexpensively thanks to the generosity of Perennials Fabrics, which donated 700 yards of fabric. Baker took it upon itself to purchase the lightweight non-woven fabric needed to make the gowns. The team at Baker knew that help was necessary beyond their local communities. So they partnered with the Carolina Textiles District to distribute their masks and gowns to other areas of the state that are too far away for them and other furniture manufacturers to reach.
Like many workers around the state, some workers have been furloughed due to a decrease in furniture orders. But, a small team of workers has remained on-site to help provide support to their communities during COVID-19. “Normally, these people would have been temporarily laid off, but they were very excited to do what they can for the community,” stated Beeker. To help keep the employees safe, Beeker is making sure to educate workers on social distancing guidelines and safety. Since they have a reduced crew, they can effectively social distance to help prevent the spread of the virus in the plant. Beeker also checks in with the employees to make sure they are doing okay during this pandemic. She is proud of their response. “The pride and comradery that our two plants have had while working on this project is amazing,” shared Beeker. “Everyone jumped right in and made the best of a bad situation.”
Industrial Engineering to the Rescue
Making the switch from producing pieces of furniture to making masks and gowns is no easy feat. But Beeker saw it as an opportunity to put her industrial engineering skills to good use. “This is what I enjoy,” she confided. “This is the perfect example of project management, and how can we do it efficiently. It has all the functions that an industrial engineer needs. I think it is the perfect IE project that is very rewarding.”
Along with Jolly and Beeker, Baker Furniture employs five other NC State alumni who have risen to the challenge. “At Baker, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing number of Coronavirus cases in our state and the impact it has on our brave community of healthcare workers, first responders and all citizens,” said Jolly. “We are utilizing the talents of our ‘cutting and sewing’ factory teammates to support the dire need of these essential supplies. It’s the least we can do.”