When COVID-19 became an undeniable reality in mid-March, there was a visible ripple in the fabric of our collective sense of “normal”. Individually, the coronavirus meant different things for different people and businesses.  For AMRoC Fab Lab, that meant shutting down some programs, like our FIRST Robotics Competition program, in mid-competition, and shutting our doors while the world got its viral sea legs and tried to adjust to the new reality of a highly contagious pathogen.

When long time friend and community partner, Michael Guinn,  reached out at the end of March to invite us to be part of his MRG3D  Personal Protective Equipment production project to benefit area hospitals and health care workers, we jumped at the opportunity to keep putting AMRoC Fab Lab to good use.  MRG3D houses 14 on-site printers, running 24/7, but others wanted to help, too.  So at AMRoC, we went to work coordinating external 3D printing volunteers who now number 25,  running another 50 personal, small business and academic 3D printers adding about 200 shields a week to the collection.  At the height of the health care crisis, MRG3D was delivering 6000+ face shields each week to front line medical professionals, and  continues provide them still, nearly two months later, to health care workers at absolutely no cost to them.

Michael stood up the MRG3D lab out-of-pocket, an expensive venture,  but it wasn’t long before the program started drawing attention and support. In April , Michael launched three more volunteer hubs modeled off AMRoC Fab Lab’s, in Ocala, Lakeland and Sarasota, tripling outreach and awareness.  FCDI applied for and received a United Way Suncoast COVID-19 grant, which was applied to MRG3D.  The CEL, an earlier grantor of AMRoC Fab Lab, gave permission to reallocate their grant for PPE support.  Then an anonymous donor stepped up with an unexpected and generous grant.

When we took a short break to play in The Deconstruction challenge in early May, we were only looking for a creative outlet and a fun way to engage with friends and partners at a safe social distance.  However, our goofy performance art piece, Slow Your Roll, earned the MegaGroup Award for having the biggest distributed team  (apparently an AMRoC Fab Lab theme!) and won a $500 donation that could be applied to the COVID-19 relief effort of our choice.  Our choice, of course,  was MRG3D.

With the addition of the Deconstruction award money, the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation has now been able to facilitate donations of over $20,000 to support the MRG3D effort, along with over 300 rolls of donated filament from Ultimate 3D Printing Store, cases of gloves and cleaning supplies from other donors.   We’re proud and honored to have been able to help to this degree, but we’re also awed and humbled by the outpouring of support.

Out of the chaos of COVID-19 emerged dozens of volunteers for the MRG3D project, creating a distributed community factory helping produce and distribute thousands of protective face shields to front line workers in critical need of PPE, along with generous funding to help make it all possible.  Where gaps appeared in corporate and institutional structures, they were filled by private citizens and non-governmental organizations pulling together for the good of all.

The Deconstruction became a more apropos metaphor for the last couple of months than we expected, this experience of “bringing something into the world that did not exist before”.  Community did exist before, of course. But in the case of MRG3D and PPE production,  it came together in new ways, healing over the chasm of COVID to create another level of collective productivity that was new, and also provided real time learning opportunities for all of us.  And that’s something worth celebrating!

Thank you to all our amazing donors and partners.  Please know that your contributions are vital and have been put to good use, as MRG 3D and AMRoC Fab Lab continue to supply PPE free of charge to hospitals and health care workers. More recently AMRoC also started producing disposable shields for use by law enforcement and other non-medical workers who have to work in public facing jobs, and we’re happy to supply the shields for a small donation to local businesses as they ready to reopen as safely as possible.  We’re working to get mask production underway for Pioneer Medical Foundation as well.

COVID-19 is a great equalizer. But it’s also a great proving ground for discovering new ways to work and be together. The fact is, we can’t always wait for or depend on others to come to our aid, or to fix problems.  It’s up to us to come to the aid of our community and to be there for each other.  MRG3D and all the amazing donors and volunteers it has inspired are evidence of that.

If you’d like to get involved in continuing COVID-19 relief efforts, volunteer and donor information is on our main page at AMROCTampaBay.com.

Thank you all, again, and keep rolling with kindness!