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'I Thank God Every Day': VA Canvas Company Retools to Make Masks While Employing Laid-Off Workers


While the country tries to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, the shortage of protective equipment remains an ongoing issue, especially for those on the frontlines.

Across the country, business leaders are responding often by totally changing their production lines. 

Since 2008, Signature Canvas Makers in Hampton, VA, has been known for making products for boats, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,  the business has turned into a major mask-making operation.

Charlene Clark runs the small business with her husband Chandler, supplying canvas material for water recreation and amusement park rides.

Seeing the growing demand for masks and face shields, they decided to step up.

"We said, 'You know what we can do this we have the ability to do this,'" Clark said in an interview with CBN News.  "We have the technology to do this. We have a network of people that we can bring in to do this. So, it made sense."

Using Computer Design Technology known as CAD, the company quickly retooled, switching from recreation to protection.

"We have a cutting table so that has allowed us to scale and scale very quickly," explained Clark.  "So, we're able to cut hundreds of masks at a time rather than one or two smaller quantities. So, it has been a little bit of a departure, but it is canvas. It is a textile. It is a textile product. So, that's our business. That's what we do."

With a staff of nine employees, the business normally makes 300 to 400 surgical and filter style masks a week.  

Then the US Navy came knocking with a major need.

"We had an order for our first really big order for 1,600 masks for the USS Wasp and they had a very definitive deadline that they were asking us to meet and we had about a week to meet that deadline. No pressure," Clark said laughing.

Since then, military requests have been also coming in from other parts of the country.

"We've been working with other commands all the way from here in Norfolk all the way down to Pensacola, Florida to supply quantities to their sailors.  It's been a great transition." Clark noted. 

That transition allowed the Clarks to meet another need. They hired more people, including those desperate for work.

"We have about 12 to 15 ladies that are working for us from their homes," said Clark.  "They've been laid off from their jobs, their normal jobs. Most of them are professional seamstresses or tailors."

Abigail Bomar was furloughed from her job at a small boutique. 

"It's been a great way to spend my time, a great way to make some extra money," commented Bomar.  

She said she is also thankful for work that is making a difference. 

"Doing something purposeful feels great," said Bomar.  

It is a sentiment that is shared by her new employer.  

"I thank God every day that we are in the position that we're in right now," said Clark.  "I have so many friends that own their own businesses that are not as fortunate as we are. They've had to lay off employees. They're on the verge of potentially losing their business."

'But we are very grateful for this opportunity," Clark added.  "We are very grateful that we are able to employ people on the outside and help them support themselves and their families."

"The act that we've been able to help some of our sailors is something that's really special to our hearts as well," said Clark.  


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