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Oceanside family uses 3D printers to make PPE for medical workers

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For the Rengel family, of Oceanside, 3D printing began as a fun hobby about a year or two ago, said Rich Rengel.

He and his wife, Andrea, would help their two children, Sebastian, 10, and Oliver, 4, create small toys with their home 3D printer.

Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the family has decided to put their skills to work by creating face shields for frontline workers. Face shields are a type of personal protective equipment, or PPE, that sits on a person’s head and covers the eyes and face with a clear plastic. Traditional paper or cloth masks, which most workers are now wearing, only cover the nose and mouth.

“I knew that this was becoming a serious situation [when I saw] reports of all the different shortages,” Rengel said. “That’s when we said we want to start helping others.”

The Rengels have donated around 450 face shields to Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, as well as a group of emergency medical technicians in Long Beach. Hundreds more are in production, and their goal is to donate 2,000 total.

Mount Sinai South Nassau received 100 face shields from the Rengels. Joe Calderone, the hospital’s senior vice president of corporate communications, explained that health care workers wear the face shields when entering “red zones,” or the room of a patient with the virus. They also wear them when they need to hook patients up to ventilators, along with disposable gowns and gloves.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the community support we’ve received both in PPE and food donations,” Calderone said. “It’s been such an unbelievable outpouring of support.”

At first, about two weeks ago, the Rengels purchased three 3D printers. Then, “we saw the need was a lot more urgent,” Rengel explained.

They started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to buy more printers and supplies. It raised $3,200 and allowed the Rengels to buy seven more printers. Now, with 10 printers and a stock of supplies, the family’s garage has turned into a face shield-making workshop.

Rengel sets the 3D printers to produce frames for the shields. Then, the family gets to work attaching the plastic shield and elastic to the base. “I think it’s still pretty fun,” Rengel said. “We’ve gotten to the point where it’s a process. But we’re all invested in helping with this effort.”

The father explained that it’s “a cool way” for the kids to contribute to the cause of keeping workers safe during the pandemic. His children also make and send cards to hospital workers to life their spirits.

Going forward, he will start delivering the face shields to individuals who request them. He also hopes to pinpoint hospitals with great need for the face shields and deliver them to those high-need places.

“We’re making all these PPEs and want to make sure they’re going to areas that need it most,” Rengel concluded. “We’ve gotten [production] scale up to where we’d like, and we want to make sure we’re getting them to right place.”