How to Help? Eimo Knows

By Gary Hallam, general manager of the Eimo plants in Vicksburg

On Saturday, April 4, I was having a conversation with Hiro Uenishi, CEO of Nissha USA, and he mentioned that it would be a great if Eimo could get involved with helping with the local pandemic response. I immediately sent an email to the Eimo Leadership Team titled “How to help,” asking if anyone had any ideas.

Jim Williams, manager at Eimo Tooling and Technology Center, came back with what looked like a winning idea. Jim is also an instructor at the local community college (KVCC) and he knew that they were already 3-D printing headbands for a face shield and developing a respirator mask. The idea would be for Eimo to mass produce these by quickly making production tooling. We could take this project from prototype stage to mass production in one week. Timing was everything as cases in Michigan were spiking at that time and personal protective equipment (PPE) was a scarcity for local institutions. Jim met with KVCC the morning of 4/6 and by that afternoon the project was a “go”.

Using materials which were already available, the TTC constructed forming and injection tools in five days. On 4/13, our engineering team of Keith Holladay, Jerry Pardeik and Kevin Bell were developing processes for injection molding, vacuum forming, and laser cutting these products. The respirator mask is being formed from Nissha piano black Type P film. Eimo made our first shipment to KVCC on 4/14 and they in turn made their first delivery to Senior Living Centers on 4/17. The production rate has been maintained – 150 face shields and 300 respirators per day.

Eimo has been at work the past six weeks since the state of Michigan stay at home Executive Order. Eimo has been named as an “essential supplier” by over 30 of our critical infrastructure customers.

The East Plant in the Leja Industrial park has been working at almost two thirds of normal capacity supporting primarily two large local medical customers. The Portage Road plant has been running around a third of normal capacity primarily supporting a large defense contract and a couple of smaller medical customers.

The Tech Center on Portage road is operating at about half of normal capacity, primarily supporting the PPE project with KVCC.

It’s definitely a new world. Everyone must wear a face covering and strictly adhere to social distancing which required reconfiguring some workstations. In total, around half of Eimo’s 300 employees remain on the job and we hope to be calling those on temporary furlough back to work as customer demand starts to increase.

At one point we needed to decide if there was a business case to produce items for COVID-19 work, to help increase our revenue, or if this was purely a philanthropic effort.

It was the latter.

But the only cost to Eimo was the time and talent of our staff and we are so proud of their heroic efforts.

Ibison Family Manages through the Crisis

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Russ and Misty Ibison with their son, Carter, stand in front of their food stand in the parking lot of the BP gas station at the corner of Sprinkle Road and V Ave.

By Rob Peterson

Ibison Concession & Catering would normally be preparing to take one of its concession food trailers to Thunder Over Louisville right now. A major event that leads up to the Kentucky Derby, it’s been moved to Aug. 15.

Due to the COVID-19 quarantine, however, the Ibison family of rural Vicksburg has had to adapt to keep themselves afloat right here at home.

They decided to think outside the box and start selling their fare – elephant ears, corn dogs, hand-squeezed lemonade – at their Brady Township home for a three-day trial. “The community response was wonderful” says Misty Ibison, who is half of the husband and wife team that runs the business. “During the first weekend, people were waiting four hours to be served. We stayed open until 10:35 that night so that we didn’t have to turn anyone away.”

It was a long day for the Ibison family, who started preparing well before they opened at 11 a.m. After seeing the turnout, the Ibisons decided to open daily. It went well until Brady Township needed to shut them down because their home is zoned for residential use. The township supervisor, however, informed them that they could continue to operate on a commercially-zoned property.

“I contacted the owner of the BP gas station (at the corner of Sprinkle and V Avenue), who lives in Chicago, and he graciously allowed us to rent the parking lot, at least through the end of May.”

It’s been a good move for the Ibisons, who have seen a significant number of new customers due to the more visible location. “We’re still doing quite a bit of business, but thanks to our longer hours, the wait is shorter,” says Ibison. Their new hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. This gives them three days each week to help their 8-year-old son with his homework from Indian Lake Elementary.

To keep them from working too hard, their neighbor has been bringing them meals. “It’s amazing to see people come together to support one another,” says Ibison. They are returning that support by serving medical staff and first responders for free.

Hard work comes naturally for the Ibisons. Misty’s husband, Russ, began making elephant ears 27 years ago at 14. Their offerings expanded over the years, and today they have a half-dozen concession trailers, each offering a unique menu.

To keep her staff and customers safe, they are going above and beyond their already rigid cleaning schedule, which includes using a disinfecting spray and washing their hands regularly. The business is staffed by two families from the same household, so contact with each other isn’t a concern for them. To avoid direct customer contact, they are only taking credit card payments and they slide orders to customers across a 6-foot table. They can be reached at 269-806-5549.

This lack of direct customer contact may have its costs, says Ibison. “I’m really worried about how this will affect the way we react to one another.”

That’s not the only worry on her mind, however; the festivals that they normally participate in have been canceled through June, and even some of the July festivals are shutting down. “We would rather not be on the front lines, but we need to provide for our family,” says Ibison. She has spent hours on the unemployment website, but support for those who are self-employed is not yet available.

“I’m concerned that it will take longer than anticipated for us to get through this,” she says. “I’m hoping we will have answers soon so that we know how we will need to adapt to the new normal.”

Fulton Little Store Keeps on Humming

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Janet Mendocha welcome customers to the Fulton Little Store.

By Jef Rietsma

From newfound gratitude toward healthcare workers to heartfelt thanks for essential workers everywhere, the coronavirus has sparked its share of positives.

In the small community of Fulton, Janet Mendocha has an uplifting anecdote of her own to share.

“People are going out of their way to come in and patronize our business,” said Mendocha, owner of the Fulton Little Store. “Rather than going to Vicksburg or into Meijer, they’ll come here instead and people have told me they appreciate having us here, they want to see us succeed. You can’t imagine how good that makes us feel to have that support!”

Mendocha said she knows a lot of people taking advantage of their downtime and tackling odd jobs around the house. Between caring for her cancer-stricken husband and running the kitchen area in the store, Mendocha said she doesn’t have that same luxury of time.

Staying safe and not wanting to bring home potentially harmful germs, Mendocha said the kitchen has been a good, isolated place for her to work when she’s on duty. Meanwhile, she said it’s been impressive to see most customers respecting the six-foot buffer between each other, and everyone respecting the health and wellness of others.

That’s a peculiar habit customers are developing. It could very well be a result of the fear of contamination, though Mendocha optimistically prefers to think it’s a gesture of goodwill.

“More people than I’ve ever seen are telling us to just keep the change, they don’t want it back,” she said. “So, we just keep it all there on the counter and if someone comes in and they’re short a little bit, no problem, we’ve got them covered. That’s what I love about being in a small town.”

Mendocha said one thing troubling her is the disregard protesters are showing for the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. She said the disobedience undermines the work being done by healthcare professionals and potentially puts their family members at risk.
Mendocha, who said Fulton Little Store has four employees, added that her 17-year-old son was crushed when Vicksburg High School had to postpone or cancel its spring performance, “Holiday Inn.”

“He had been rehearsing jump rope and tap dancing, and he still rehearses, hoping they’ll put on the production when school resumes,” she said. “He loves school anyhow and he has been absolutely devastated through all this.”

Local Mask Makers Do Their Part for Healthcare Workers

By Sue Moore

Have sewing machine, will work to make masks!

It didn’t take long for local seamstresses to volunteer their skills to make masks protecting Kalamazoo County health care workers. Here’s how a couple of people got started.

Sue Opalewski of rural Vicksburg found a mask pattern on a web site, printed it, then ordered elastic and flannel for the inside when it was still possible to pick up materials at the store. She was able to secure 10 yards of flannel in Battle Creek, then cut it into 6×9-inch pieces, which netted 280 mask backings. Then she went into her own stash of fabric and cut the outside pieces. She ordered elastic online, 289 yards of it; now it’s almost impossible to find elastic anywhere. She has made 536 masks thus far and has joined with nine others from her church, St. Edwards in Mendon, who are now making them. They would love to get together for a sewing bee but that is not possible under present “stay home, stay safe” rules.

One parishioner is a pharmacist at Bronson who took them to work to distribute. Another is a nurse at Borgess; she sent some there. If they don’t have N-95 masks available, they are just using anything they could get their hands on, Opalewski said.

Having turned out 536 so far, she will keep making them as long as the elastic holds out. At first it took her about 15 minutes to make one at a time. She told herself this was silly, so she ganged them up in a production line. Now she figures it takes maybe 10-12 minutes per mask.

It takes 14 inches of elastic for each mask. They can be washed. She has made them for friends and family too and wears one of her own creations when she goes out. Working from scraps, some masks are just basic and some are pretty. Some she makes for guys have stripes because she knows they don’t want to wear flowers on their face.

Marti Moore of Vicksburg is another production-line mask maker. “I really don’t pay attention to how much time it takes me for each mask because I do them in batches, meaning I usually start cutting enough elastic for a large group and continue by cutting out at least 25 or more masks from the material each time,” she said. “Then I sew the center seam on all of them, then start making each mask separately. So it’s kind of like a production line for my process.”

She has finished over 425 and had Christine Butcher take the first batch to Bronson. Since then, Ellyn Curtis from Vicksburg takes them in. She’s a nurse in the emergency unit at Bronson.

They use them for hospital staff and also patients that are coming into the emergency rooms.

Sue Hunt is close to making 40 masks. Kathy Corella made a bunch and both sent them to Bronson Hospital with Hunt’s granddaughter, Heidi Furney, who is an ER nurse there.

Nurses Combine to Help Each Other with Mask Making

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Carol Berger holds a box of masks that she has made before she sent them to the Hospice center.

By Deb Christiansen

During this time, what do you do when your healthcare company, Elara Caring Hospice, is last in line to receive PPE – personal protective equipment?

Find a friend who can sew, figured Deb Bender, RN.

This is the call that came into Carol Berger, a retired RN, in Schoolcraft. “When my friend asked me,” Berger said, “I couldn’t turn her down. Nursing is in my DNA. I couldn’t turn down a call for help.” So Carol, along with husband, Doug, and many donations of materials from neighbors and friends, began crafting masks. Lots of them, 650 in all, went to her friend’s company. “The effort gained momentum and I felt as though I couldn’t stop,” Berger said.

“Bender would come pick the masks up. None of this would have happened had she not been the impetus in this dilemma. She is a clinical manager there. We have been friends since freshman year at Nazareth College. She brought the masks to her office, then management would distribute. Nurses and aides, office staff, clergy and social workers are all wearing them. She is the one that brought me needed supplies in the beginning and taught me how to use the mask pattern. I feel she deserves a lot of the credit,” Berger said.

To date, over 900 masks have been made. The endeavor has also resulted in paid work. “My neighbor got me a paid gig,” Berger said. “I wasn’t looking for it, but now the demand is high and the materials are scarce, especially elastic.”

Berger was asked what it’s like staying at home and working with her husband. “Doug is a freelance graphic designer who was already working from home. He has been incredibly generous with his time by showing up at the sewing room once his projects are done.

“There have been some ‘workplace disputes’ in the sewing room, mostly about which music to listen to next. It has playfully tested our listening skills and patience, but all and all it’s been a very positive experience.”

The mask making has kept Berger from some of the household projects that others of us now have the time for, such as spring cleaning. “There are so many other household things I could be doing, but this mission takes precedence,” Berger said. “Besides, it keeps me from worrying about my fellow healthcare professionals and all the other worries about this time.”

It remains to be seen whether the Bergers will continue their mask project once the state opens back up, but there is no doubt it is one of the bright spots of the lock down. “I’ve seen an outpouring of generosity from neighbors,” Berger said. “I live in an awesome place.”

Yogi’s Owner Finds Plenty of Honey-do Tasks to Get Done

Greg HartBy Jef Rietsma

Greg Hart didn’t pause when asked what great discovery he has made during the quarantine from coronavirus.

“Sleep,” he said. “I’ve discovered I can sleep eight, some days even up to 10 hours at a time.”

Despite the pleasure derived from his newfound, long stretches of slumber, Hart said he would still rather be back where he is happiest and most comfortable. The owner of Yogi’s Restaurant, Hart said crazy as it sounds, being at work would bring him the most joy right now.

“We’ve gotta get our country back to work … if we go past May and things are then the way they are now, boy, as a country we would be in deep, deep trouble,” Hart said. “Things by that point could be beyond fixing.”

Hart, who said he stares daily at a stack of books he’d like to read but has yet to pick one up, said he has instead put a nice dent in a list of around-the-house tasks that had been long-neglected. During this interview, in fact, Hart was in the midst of changing the oil in his riding mower.

“My honey-do list is shrinking quickly,” he said. “I cleaned out and organized the garage – a task on my list for two years. It took two days to organize a tool chest, I have a garage in my basement that I organized and cleaned out, and I go to the restaurant every other day and do a project; I’ve cleaned out the walk-in freezer.”

Hart, a 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry, said the value of food that he ended up donating and throwing away was about $2,000. From the time restrictions are lifted, Hart said it will take a turnaround of between 36 and 48 hours to open the doors to Yogi’s again. He said that moment will feel like opening a new restaurant. “You’re starting with nothing … it’s like opening a brand-new restaurant,” Hart said.

More than two dozen people are on Yogi’s payroll, Hart said.

Local Events Get Cancelled or Postponed

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Visitors inspect these early car models at the 2019 Old Car Festival. The 2020 version has been postponed to August 21 and 22.

By Sue Moore

Big and little events around the area have either been cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Vicksburg Village Trash drop-off scheduled for Saturday, May 9 has been postponed to July 18. It will be located on Wellhouse Drive near the Vicksburg Little League fields.

The longest-running observance cancelled for this year is the 4th of July parade and festivities in Schoolcraft. This would have been the 95th celebration in this small town of about 1,000 residents. It usually swells to 8,000-10,000 for the parade and all the other activities throughout the village.

The postponement of the 40th Annual Vicksburg Old Car Festival until Friday and Saturday, August 20-21, was announced by founder and organizer Skip Knowles. “We have been fortunate that the show has gone on this long without interruption, except for the day of a rain deluge that shortened the event to Friday and about an hour on Saturday.”

The running of the 33rd annual Hearty Hustle 5k has been cancelled but will still go on as a virtual race May 9 to May 16 via the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation web site.

The 11th opening of the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market is still unknown as the state of Michigan loosens the restrictions on how people gather. It has usually opened the third Saturday in May and is hoping it can get started in early June.

Vicksburg and Schoolcraft Little Leagues are both on hold for their season openers.

The Vicksburg Historical Society opening of its buildings and grounds has usually occurred in the middle of May. This year, its managers are waiting to hear the recommendations of the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on how many people are allowed to gather in one place.

Memorial Day observances in Vicksburg and Fulton have been cancelled as well as the parades that were led by Vicksburg High School’s Big Red Machine marching band and lots of area fire trucks.

Schoolcraft’s Memorial Day parade is cancelled as well as the speeches and flag observance in the cemetery.

The village-wide garage sales in Schoolcraft scheduled on May 29 and 30 have been cancelled.

The Schoolcraft Spring Clean-up has been cancelled from its June 6 date.

Spring sports for high schools have all been cancelled.

Then there are high school graduation plans in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg. They are still in the planning stage with each school hoping to give their seniors a proper send off. Vicksburg is planning a streaming video event but hoping for a more traditional in-person event later in the summer.