BY JON O’CONNELL
Cars snaked along in the Dunkin’ drive-thru lane while motorists waited for coffee and doughnuts, creature comforts still allowed under social distance orders.
Inside, where the dining room is closed to the general public, volunteers bustled around a lone sewing machine as Dunkin’ employee Christine Merced pushed tiny cloth squares under a thumping needle.
Merced’s daughter works as an aide at the Gardens of Green Ridge, an assisted living memory care center, where, like in nursing homes across the country, workers need masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“My heart breaks every day when she walks out the door,” Merced said.
Dunkin’ franchise owner Jerry Fives voluntarily closed dining rooms in his restaurants that have drive-thrus, all but the Hamlin location, shifting traffic to reduce personal contact between employees and customers.
At his flagship coffee and doughnut shop along Main Street in Dickson City, he let the volunteers transform the space into a production floor.
Merced started making masks on her own. Her manager, Cherie Polk, had been hunting for a way to help and asked if she could pitch in.
“Come to find out we had a lot of people interested in helping,” Polk said.
Fives and his wife, Sophia Fives, donated materials and the space. They’ll package the masks in doughnut boxes and deliver them to the nursing home along with some treats. After the Gardens, they’re exploring other organizations that might need masks to continue the effort.
Before inspiring her colleagues to join, Merced produced 75 masks, made with a pattern of her own design, by herself.
On the table before her, volunteers fit fabric and elastic bands together. They had about 40 ready for final assembly Tuesday afternoon, with rolls of fabric waiting to be fashioned into more.
They join the ranks of high profile fashion houses, manufacturers and 3D printing companies jumping in to help preserve a precious supply of medical and N95 masks needed for frontline health workers.
As a business owner, Fives is getting ready for what happens next, when regular commerce reopens while social distancing practices still linger.
He’s installed large plexiglass shields over cash registers and at the drive-thru window. He’s considering adding space between seating and decals on the floor to keep customers apart.
“It’s not going to be back to normal for some time,” he said. “We’re trying to make people feel it’s as normal as possible, and safe as possible, by doing these little tweaks.”
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