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WHEN COVID-19 STRUCK, we sat confined in our home, eyes glued to our newsfeeds, scared for our community, our country and the world as mitigation measures, risk factors, testing protocols, transmission rates and effective treatments remained a mystery. Jarring stories and photos of our frontline health workers – of doctors and nurses wearing trash bags as gowns and rationing gloves and masks for reuse – grieved and angered us. We decided to try to buy and donate personal protective equipment (PPE) but quickly realized that sourcing through the usual channels would not be feasible. We acquired a few thousand surgical masks and gowns through a contact in Asia, but the wait times were unrealistic and unreliable, and the costs were astronomical. Fortunately, one of our board members saw a friend modeling a face shield in a social media post. 

Karla Trotman, the newly appointed CEO of Pennsylvania-based electronics manufacturer Electro-Soft, responded to the uncharted adversity of a global pandemic with altruistic action. She pivoted to produce PPE in an attempt to assist the community and to keep her small, black-owned family business alive and its staff employed. Impressed by Karla’s ingenuity and civic-mindedness, the Richard P. Riney Family Foundation negotiated to buy 1,000 face shields. Once the Electro-Soft team established its supply chain and refined its production line, we increased our order to over 14,000 shields, which we then donated to medical facilities, police and fire departments and shelters in St Louis, Philadelphia and New York. We salute our frontline workers for their dedication and perseverance, and we thank Karla Trotman – and everyone at Electro-Soft – for partnering with us. Her resourcefulness and drive epitomize the values of family-owned businesses.

In addition, we made several grants to food banks and the United Way to bring food to children facing hunger because of the disruption to school lunch programs and similar social networks. We also increased and expanded the breadth of the Imagination Library grants to reach more children in the greater St. Louis area when lockdown made at-home access to books even more important. 

“Sometimes you have to jump in, retool and execute. That is the beauty of being a small business.”

CEO, Electro-Soft, Inc.

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