Stacks of envelopes sit in an office at the Hillery Company in Groton waiting to be sent to thousands of addresses across the country. States are handwritten on top of each envelope including Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada and everywhere in between.
"This started out small," said Joe de la Cruz, vice president of the Hillery Company, a metal fabrication shop. "Sometimes it is the little things."
The envelopes are waiting to be filled with thin aluminum strips.
About two weeks ago, de la Cruz said that his wife's friend asked if the company would be able to cut metal nose strips for homemade face masks. Tammy de la Cruz, Joe's wife, used to work in a hospital and her friend is a current healthcare worker. She wanted to use the strips to make the homemade masks more secure.
The team at the Hillery Company immediately started working. They took a metal strip off of an old N95 respirator, measured it and copied the design. Tammy was able to deliver 50 nose strips to her friend later that day that would later be sewn into homemade face masks.
"It is people helping people," said Tammy de la Cruz.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that every American wears a cloth face mask to slow the spread of COVID-19. The CDC is not recommending the general public wear surgical masks or N95 respirators. Those face coverings are critical resources and need to be reserved for healthcare workers, according to the CDC.
De la Cruz explained that the cloth face masks are not as effective as they can be if they are not secure, allowing for air to enter through gaps by the nose.
After that first delivery of nose strips, Joe de la Cruz, who is also a democratic state representative, made a Facebook post about the nose strips. The post reached thousands.
As of Tuesday, about two weeks after their first donation, Hillery Company has received requests from nearly 3,000 people across the country for 45,000 metal nose strips.
"It has to be an all hands on deck situation," said de la Cruz.
Hillery Company has been assisted by other local shops in the area who donated some strips, according to de la Cruz. Their vendor out of Waterbury also donated sheets of metal. Volunteers spent days at the shop labeling envelopes and helping to ship about 500.
The requests for strips are organized in a spreadsheet. A lot of requests are coming from sewing groups who are making the homemade masks, but some of the requests are coming from healthcare workers who say they do not have access to the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
"It is concerning to me that our healthcare workers are not protected at this point," said Tammy.
The team is working to fulfill all of their current requests for donations from across the country, but they did disable their online order form and will not be taking any additional out of state requests until they can ship all of the orders.
The SMART (Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation) International Union is now stepping in to offer Hillery Company some relief. De la Cruz reached out to the union to see if they could help bring more sheet metal workers into the fold to make the nose strips for their local areas.
As of Tuesday afternoon, SMART has an order form for nose strip requests. They will then forward each request to the SMART union members closest to the requester.
"If everyone does that in their own little corner of the universe, we are going to take care of this problem really quick," said de la Cruz.
De la Cruz said that his team will still take new requests from anyone local to the Hillery Company who can drive to pick up the strips.