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DOWNERS GROVE - Not too long ago, Downers Grove South High School teacher Mark Molinari was best known as the school's varsity football coach.
That changed last week.
The career and technical education teacher spent spring break using about a dozen 3-D printers in his classroom to create face shields for health care workers and first responders in need of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Family members and fellow teachers have joined a cause that's grown beyond anything Molinari expected when he began executing the idea brought to him by Downers South science teacher Scott Parker.
"We don't have a goal in mind," Molinari said. "We'll just keep going as long as there's a need."
Molinari, Parker and fellow teachers Mike McGinnis and Ryan Altenburg researched prototypes. Molinari's wife Jayme, an ultrasound technician, picked the style of shield that would work best over goggles and N95 masks.
With report covers serving as the clear shield and rubber bands used to hold them in place around the head, soon the printers began creating the plastic pieces where the shields are attached. Molinari's daughters Aubrey, a freshman at Downers South, and Ashley, a seventh grader, assemble the shields into a finished product.
"It doesn't feel like that huge of a task," Aubrey said. "But I know it's going to help a lot of people."
With support from District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele, Downers South Principal Ed Schwartz, Downers North science department Chairman Mike Heinz, retired engineer Kevin Keisner and Downers South students Sean Nolan and Mateo Garcia, the process has become much more fine-tuned than even a few days ago.
By early this week the printers churned out 200 shields a day to help fill the 1,300 orders they've received. More than 500 have been delivered, including 100 to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and an additional supply to Edward Hospital in Naperville and Elmhurst Hospital.
Aubrey and Ashley are handling the logistics of delivering the shields where they need to be. Molinari is paying for the materials until he is reimbursed by the school district, meaning it's a free service to the health care workers and first responders.
"It's been a blessing to work on something like this," Ashley said. "It's amazing to see it all come together."
As the need continues, it'll be all hands on deck.
"They'll take as many as we can make but they also don't want to deplete our supplies," Mark Molinari said. "There aren't enough face shields out there so we'll keep working."