Tara Grinna Swim & Resort Wear donates materials, manpower to retrofit new respirators for Tidelands Health

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The Tidelands Health Newsroom

Published on March 31, 2020

Tara Grinna Swim & Resort Wear donates materials, manpower to retrofit new respirators for Tidelands Health

The sewing machines were back in action at the Tara Grinna Swim & Resort Wear manufacturing facility in Conway on Monday.

But instead of cranking out fashion swimsuits for the season, employees and volunteers at the Conway-based company were meticulously retrofitting new N95 respirators for clinical workers at Tidelands Health on the front lines of the COVID-19 coronavirus battle.

Last week, the health system put out a call for volunteers to help sew new elastic bands on thousands of professional-grade respirators that were acquired during a previous public health emergency but never used. While the N95 respirators themselves are in new condition, the elastic straps have become brittle over time. Before the respirators can be made available to clinical staff, the straps need to be replaced.

More than 2,000 community volunteers responded in just two days.

Tara Grinna sews new elastic bands on N95 respirator masks for Tidelands Health.Tara Grinna, whose factory shut down nearly two weeks ago as businesses braced for COVID-19, said she simply had to come forward to help after she saw the appeal on Facebook.

“We know elastics – that is our wheelhouse,” Grinna said while standing amid piles of elastics, thread and swimsuit materials in the manufacturing center. “In times like this, people need to step up. It’s our duty. It’s our obligation.”

In all, a dozen volunteers – both Tara Grinna employees and volunteers from the community – are at the factory, completing the task of removing brittle bands and sewing new elastic on the respirators. They are practicing social distancing, with sewing machines properly spaced to prevent the spread of illness.

“You sit here and concentrate on what you’re doing, thinking about how many lives we might be saving,” said Rosita King, who has worked at Tara Grinna for 10 years. “That’s what people do. We get together and help each other out. Anything to help.”

Just a few hours after sewing began on Monday, the eager crew – all laser-focused on the needles and the bands - had cranked out hundreds of retrofitted respirators. They celebrated each finished box with a quick cheer of “ding, ding” or “woohoo.”

“Everybody in this place wants to help in some way,” Grinna said, not pausing and with her eyes still focused on the respirator she was maneuvering through the sewing machine in front of her. “This is giving us a way to help.”

The professional-grade N95 respirators are part of the personal protective equipment worn by health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 coronavirus battle. The thousands of respirators getting new elastic bands thanks to community volunteers will extend the supply at Tidelands Health by several weeks. Nationwide, N95 respirators are in high demand and short supply as hospitals respond to the pandemic.

“With each stitch, Tara Grinna and her team are protecting lives and limiting the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in our community,” said Pam Maxwell, chief nursing officer at Tidelands Health. “Every single Tidelands Health team member extends our sincerest thanks to Tara Grinna Swim & Resort Wear and to all the more than 2,000 community volunteers who are using their time and talents to protect us. We are forever grateful.”

Tara Grinna plans to retrofit 35,000 respirators for Tidelands Health, using thousands of yards of elastics donated by the local swim and resort wear company, which has operated in the Myrtle Beach area for more than three decades, and its supplier, Phenix Engineered Textiles in Landrum. Thousands more respirators are being retrofitted by the 2,000-plus community volunteers who registered and are completing the project at home.

“Everyone should really thank our local hospitals – the workers, the volunteers,” Grinna said. “It’s so important at this time.”

Want to volunteer but don’t have a sewing machine at home? Tara Grinna is still seeking volunteers to come to its Conway facility and sew new elastic bands on the respirators. Volunteers who don’t know how to sew can assist by removing the brittle elastic bands. Contact Kirsti Kelliher, director of retail for Tara Grinna Swim & Resort Wear, at 843-655-6314 for more information.

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Tidelands Health is the region’s largest health care provider and MUSC Health affiliate, serving the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 60 outpatient locations. More than 2,500 employee, physician and volunteer partners work side by side with our communities to transform the health of our region – promoting wellness, preventing illness, encouraging recovery and restoring health.