With help from its pastor’s scientific bent, New Jersey’s Hildale Park Presbyterian Church creates hundreds of face shields for medical staff
by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Many individuals and churches have answered the call to make cloth masks to address the shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline medical professionals.
But a Presbyterian pastor in northern New Jersey, a COVID-19 hotspot early in the pandemic, had another idea.
“Once the hospitals had expressed openness to using homemade cloth masks, I began to ponder what other pieces of PPE we could crowd-source and produce at home to help contain the spread of infection and keep our health care workers safe,” said the Rev. Ross Lang, pastor of Hildale Park Presbyterian Church in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. “With input from health care workers about what they needed, I landed on the idea of face shields.”
With feedback from nurses and a hospital infection control department, Lang created a prototype face shield from recyclables — but learned that common household plastics tended to produce a faceplate that was too narrow. Next, he tried to make face shields from clear page protectors. That didn’t work either: they were too flexible and too short.
“My background in biotechnology prior to seminary helped to familiarize me with the PPE used to protect laboratory workers from pathogens and noxious chemicals,” he said, “but for this project I’m probably more indebted to the childhood interest in science that led me to that major.”
Lang’s mother, Cynthia Knox Lang, is a computer scientist, chemical engineer and a deacon in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Through her encouragement, he competed in numerous science and design fairs growing up. In his science fair days, he won a competition by using $60 in household supplies to perfectly duplicate the specifications and functions of an incubator that cost more than $1,000. “The lesson — that you can make sensitive scientific equipment at home that functions as well as something you buy from a scientific supply company — was vital for the face shield project,” he said.
To be approved for use by hospital staff, even in a crisis, Lang learned that a face shield would have to meet strict standards: It would need to cover the entire face and neck of even the tallest medical workers, while not touching any part of the face with plastic; have space underneath for a mask, glasses or safety goggles; be very clear; be resistant to fogging or wrinkling; have a curved lower edge to clear the shoulders when the head is turned side to side; and have a large enough elastic band to be comfortable to wear during a 10-hour shift. Nadia Sohan, RN, who attends Hildale Park Presbyterian Church, was a vital link between the congregation and the hospital. “She kept bringing back feedback from nurses and infection control and helping us refine our design into something genuinely useful,” Lang said.
A material shortage, especially of elastic, and the closure of sewing and craft stores, added to the challenge.
Lang made a YouTube video to show the process of making a home-made shield to help essential workers flatten the curve, and asked community residents to donate elastic to the cause. “The response was overwhelming,” Lang said. Within 48 hours, over 200 yards of the appropriate-size elastic had been donated, enough to produce 600 face shields.
Lang and his wife, Rebekah, produced the first 100 face shields, which were donated to Morristown Medical Center, a police officer and two emergency medical technicians on behalf of the church. The Presbyterian Women of Hildale Park and several individual members made contributions to cover the cost of supplies, and six members of the congregation volunteered to help produce the face shields, while social distancing and wearing N-95 masks themselves.
The church expects to deliver its 500th face shield within the next week or so, which is now in a sixth-generation design. Lang and the volunteers are working with a new plastic supplier and securing the elastic bands with swiveling aluminum rivets, allowing them to create 17”x11” semi-rigid face shields that are indistinguishable from commercially available shields in terms of feel, measurements, durability and functionality, at 80% lower cost to the church than buying a comparable commercial mask.
“While it has been a blessing to bring both the community and the church together to help protect those on the frontline fighting this disease, this is not a project that I hope to continue in the future,” Lang said.
“Coming from a scientific background prior to my time in seminary, I am aware of how desperate the times are for a hospital to deploy a medical device made in a kitchen, a family room or a fellowship hall in a patient-care environment,” Lang said. “For the time being, though, we are privileged to be called by God to continue this ministry to help protect those who are risking themselves on a daily basis for our health.”
The Rev. Ross Lang is pastor of Hildale Park Presbyterian Church in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. After earning his undergraduate degree in English and biotechnology at Lafayette College where he was involved in Christian fellowship worship and leadership teams, he felt God calling him to become a pastor. At Princeton Theological Seminary, he earned both a Master of Divinity degree and a second master’s degree in theology with a focus on New Testament.
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Categories: Congregational Vitality, Faith & Worship, Matthew 25
Tags: biotechnology, Cedar Knolls, coronavirus, covid-19, face shields, Hildale Park Presbyterian Church, love thy neighbor, Love Your Neighbor, matthew 25, New Jersey, personal protective equipment, PPE, presbytery of newton, Rev. Ross Lang, science fairs
Ministries: Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement, Urban Ministry