When members of Shell Norco’s Emergency Operations Center had the idea to repurpose flame-retardant uniforms into masks, they knew just where to turn.
Nate Matherne, a Shell project engineer, submitted a photo of himself and his mother Wilma to the company’s internal newsletter after seeing a post asking people to submit the names of residents who were doing things to help their community during the pandemic.
“My mom was making masks and I was helping her distribute them to medical personnel,” Nate said. “Later I got a call asking if I thought she could make them out of FRC, and the next day I had two boxes of uniforms dropped off at her house.”
The Shell Norco site partnered with Wilma, a well-known community seamstress, to sew 300 customized Shell face masks.
Muna Esmail, Shell Norco’s health and safety manager, said the idea to repurpose FRC into masks came up during an EOC meeting. She said for some Shell employees, such as electricians and maintenance personnel, following social distancing suggestions of staying six feet apart is difficult, and in some cases even impossible.
“Workers were giving feedback that the mandate was not practical in the field all the time,” Esmail said.
She said the EOC team brainstormed on how to provide non-flammable surgical masks, which is when Nate and Wilma’s newsletter submission was brought up.
“Someone said that one of our employee’s mothers was starting the process of making masks,” Esmail said. “That’s really how it started.”
Wilma said she has had some close friends – Judy Ebling, Joy Robert and Flo Zeringue – who have helped her to construct the masks.
“These masks are a little more complicated to make,” she said of Shell’s design. “They fit better and are more protective … it meant a lot to be asked to make them.”
Esmail said supporting the local economy and local businesses is important to Shell.
“These masks are being homemade,” she said. “There’s love put into it.”
Patrick Beard, a tech safety specialist at Shell Norco, said utilizing the abundance of FRC uniforms already on site presented Shell with the opportunity to incur no additional costs for materials and the opportunity to use the uniforms for a greater purpose.
“If employees are unable to exercise social distancing, they are encouraged to wear these masks to protect themselves because of the work,” Beard said. “We’re supporting a local seamstress and helping her help us … we want to support our community and their efforts.”
Nate said he was proud of Shell’s decision to use a local seamstress for the job.
“It just highlights their dedication to the local community,” he said. “It meant a lot to me as employee.”
With the work of his mother now protecting himself and others while they work, Nate said he realizes how blessed he is.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my mom for stepping up,” he said. “She’s so talented and just flies under the radar with that big heart of hers … I’m glad she’s getting some recognition … I am extremely lucky because they don’t make them like her anymore.”