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Wake Forest mug maker, electric co-op partner in face mask production

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WAKE FOREST — Dean Verhoeven never thought he would be in the mask-making business, but with the global spread of COVID-19 making some medical supplies scarce, that’s just where he found himself.

Since early April, Verhoeven’s Wake Forest shop has been producing thin aluminum strips which can be used to help homemade face masks secure better around the user’s nose.

Verhoeven, owner of Joeveo, a travel mug manufacturer, got the idea after noticing that a homemade mask from a friend leaked air around his nose area. To make his mask more secure, Verhoeven found a small scrap of aluminum feeder cable in his shop which had strands of the perfect diameter. Having the right tools on hand, he was able to turn the cable into a flat metal strip.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that everyone wear a face mask while in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, Verhoeven knew people making homemade face masks would need these strips.

“With companies like 3M struggling with face mask production, and homemade masks on the rise, I thought it was time for Joeveo to step in and give a boost with all our industrial might,” Verhoeven said.

But Verhoeven was quickly out of metal and needed more. Luckily, his search for scrap feeder cable led him to the local electric cooperative, Wake Electric.

“When he came to us looking for aluminum scrap cable to help make metal strips for face masks, I knew he had come to the right place,” said Don Bowman, vice president of engineering and operations at Wake Electric. “Wake Electric typically recycles this type of scrap metal and we are fortunate to have someone like Mr. Verhoeven in our community to essentially upcycle our scraps and turn it into treasure.”

After receiving lengths of scrap utility-sized electric feeder cable material from Wake Electric, Verhoeven then applied his craftsmanship and tools to produce these thin metal strips.

“We've made thousands of these strips in the last week, and we're much better at it than we were initially, but it's still not exactly a push-button process,” Verhoeven explained. 

Since mid April, Verhoeven has made upwards of 10,000 metal strips and the demand is skyrocketing.

“We are proud of the work our community is doing to step up during this crisis,” Bowman said. “If everyone continues working together in this cooperative spirit, I know we will come out of this stronger.”