When the rapid spread of COVID-19 resulted in a shortage of protective filtration masks for healthcare workers, Rowan College of South Jersey engineering technology major Nate Simpkins jumped into action.
Simpkins began seeing plans for effective, reusable 3D-printed face masks on the internet, including a variation of the original "Montana Mask" which had been altered by Rowan University's Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering.
"Because I have my own online 3D printing shop, where I operate many machines, I decided I was going to see if I could manufacture masks that I could donate," said the Franklinville resident. "After about a week of tinkering I was ready for full production on the masks."
Simpkins set up a GoFundMe page, which has already raised nearly $800 for equipment and materials, and with the help of friends Matthew Tomlinson, Don Garvey and Katrina Valarie, the manufacturing process quickly started.
"What impressed me the most about Nate is that he was able to modify the Rowan University design pretty quickly. He basically reinforced and strengthened their design," said Simpkins' engineering instructor Cortney Bolden, Ph.D. "He is definitely one of the more innovative and entrepreneurially-minded students I've had the pleasure of teaching at RCSJ-Cumberland," she said.
Upon hearing about Simpkin's project, James Piccone, Ed.D., vice president and chief administrative officer of RCSJ's Cumberland campus reached out to offer 3D printing equipment, supplies and financial support.
"Because of that we will be able to make exponentially more masks than we had originally planned," Simpkins said. "Dr. Bolden has been of great assistance with helping connect me to the school and partner to expand the amount of masks we can manufacture. And Dr. Piccone helped in every way possible by sorting out all the details and checking up to make sure everything was in place."
Simpkins' goal is to produce and distribute approximately 1,000 face masks to healthcare facilities and hospitals in Cumberland and surrounding counties. So far more than 250 masks have been completed, and are scheduled for delivery to Jefferson Hospital in Washington Township and Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammonton.
The venture has posed scheduling challenges for Simpkins, as he juggles college course work, his regular job and personal commitments with the time-consuming face mask manufacturing process. However, his determination is fueled by those who are working on the front lines to battle the pandemic.
"This project is simply about helping those in need without asking for anything in return," Simpkins said. "The masks will allow hospital and medical staff to focus on helping others rather than stressing about whether they will run out of masks. This will allow them to put their sole focus on doing their job and saving lives."
Simpkins said people got excited when word of his project began to spread.
"I posted on my social media that I was doing this project, and then shortly afterward, others were helping so much that I started to feel less alone in the process," he said. "Some people even bought supplies and dropped them off on my front porch without me even knowing. It's so much easier when you have a loving community."
Simpkins offered these words, written by an unknown author, as wisdom he lives by: Success is not measured by the amount of dollars you make, but by the amount of lives you impact.
"With whatever changes happen in life, I always want to be contributing and helping others when I can," Simpkins said.