In recent weeks, we’ve shared about how United Methodists are responding to the spread of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic by equipping communities with protective gear, such as face masks. Some church members are taking things to the next level by implementing emerging technologies to make an even more significant impact.

14-year old Zach Benter, a member at Amo UMC and an 8th grader at Cascade Middle School in Clayton, Indiana, has created and donated nearly 800 ‘mask straps’ to people who use personal protective equipment. He’s been using a 3D printer to make durable straps that help to keep masks secured to one’s face.

“He has made close to 800 on his 3D printers,” shared Teresa Benter, Zach’s mother. “We have mailed out 740 so far. He continues to make them, and we have about another dozen going out tomorrow in the mail.”

A young person in Canada had shared about the “mask straps.” When Teresa asked Zach if he’d be interested in making them for people in the U.S., he grew curious and began working on specifications.

Teresa said, “I reached out to a few friend. Their spouses are nurses, and we found out that people’s ears are killing them. That’s how this all started.”

So far, they’ve donated straps to people around the country including Florida, Massachusetts, and California, and parts of southern and central Indiana. Recipients include grocery store employees, medical professionals, and even a family friend who works at NAPA Automotive Parts who is required to wear a mask for long periods at a time.

At the height of the Coronavirus, photos emerged online of medical professionals with scars caused by wearing face masks for extended periods of time. It’s a small price they paid to keep families safe while caring for those suffering from COVID-19.

Zach said that the ‘straps’ he created are compatible with any mask with an elastic strap that “can hook onto them and holds it up off of your ear.”

Teresa believes that God was involved from the very beginning of the process. She and her husband had ordered a new custom printer for Zach and were told that, due to recent lockdowns, it would take nearly two weeks to build and ship the printer from California. Miraculously, the printer arrived at their home in just one week, just in time for Zack to start producing the straps, several at a time. Each strap takes approximately 20 minutes to print.

“Most of the things I made are just little trinkets,” Zach said about his use of the printer. “But this is the only thing I’ve made that’s actually useful. It’s pretty cool. “

When asked about her reason for going on this journey to help others, Teresa shared,

“That’s just what you do. When God gives you something, you should share it. It’s like feeding people who aren’t able to feed themselves. He gives you that capability, and you should share it, not keep it and hoard it.”

Tiffanney Drummond, Director of Career and Technical Education at Huntington County Community School Corporation, partnered with school staff, including an engineer instructor and an art teacher, to craft and “3D print” harnesses for visors to protect medical staff at the Huntington County Health Department. Visors are used as an additional protective layer and are typically worn on top of a face mask.

The project came to life when a local school shared a callout asking for help with providing masks to a community in need. Tiffanney soon realized that she already had the equipment to make an impact.

“Another school district sent out a request for any school with a 3D printer to print the headpiece for a face shield mask. I checked with our local health department, and we learned that our own community had a need for these as well.”

By that time, schools had closed and communities were starting to go on lockdown. Without the help of students, Tiffanney looked to her cohorts for help.

“We immediately started printing as many as we could and also creating the shield portion of the mask as well with transparency paper. “

As the Indiana state government begins to roll out plans to reopen non-essential businesses in a staggered fashion, having reliable personal protective equipment plays a key role in the process.

A member of Evangelical United Methodist Church, Tiffanney’s efforts reflect a popular quote known throughout the Church, often attributed to founder John Wesley — “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Tiffanney added, “My biggest takeaway has been that we can all do something to help. I’m proud of my school district for donating the materials and use of the 3D printer to help protect our local community.”