A North Carolina entrepreneur is building what he thinks are better COVID-19 protective masks for the public, with big help from an electric cooperative.
Dean Verhoeven uses wire scraps given to him by Wake Electric Membership Corp. to add structure and shape to masks being turned out by people throughout the country. As the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic geared up, he saw many people wearing home-crafted masks that didn’t seem to provide maximum protection.
“With companies like 3M struggling with face mask production, and homemade masks on the rise, I thought it was time to step up,” said Verhoeven, whose company, Joeveo Inc., normally produces travel mugs at his small Wake Forest shop.
Using scraps of metal left over from his aluminum mug fabrication, he designed and cut flexible metal nose strips that could be sewn into do-it-yourself masks, improving the contouring around noses and cheeks.
Since mid-April, he’s been sending bundles of the free strips to mask makers who are willing to cover shipping costs. He quickly exhausted his supply of scrap metal so, even though he is not a co-op member, he turned to Wake Electric for help.
“When he came to us looking for aluminum scrap cable to help make metal strips for face masks, I knew he had come to the right place,” said Don Bowman, vice president of engineering and operations at Wake Electric.
“Wake Electric typically recycles this type of scrap metal,” said Bowman. “Mr. Verhoeven is essentially upcycling our scraps into real treasure.”
Co-op staff retrieved about 3 yards of discarded cable that Verhoeven has turned into more than 10,000 of the metal strips and shipped out to mask makers. He’s still increasing production to meet skyrocketing demand.
“We’ve made thousands of these strips in the last week, and we’re much better at it than we were initially,” Verhoeven said.
Youngsville-based Wake Electric and a sister co-op, Piedmont EMC of Hillsborough, are setting aside feeder scraps to help.
“We are proud of the work our community is doing to step up during this crisis,” Bowman said. “If everyone continues working together in this cooperative spirit, I know we will come out of this stronger.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.