Shifting business to battle the coronavirus

face shield

Ben VandenWymelenberg graduated in 2012 with a bachelor of science in architecture—but not before hitting on something big.

While procrastinating on his senior year project, VandenWymelenberg struck gold with an idea and rushed to the workshop to produce his first wooden phone case. A few months later he launched WOODCHUCK USA, producing sustainably sourced, handcrafted wood products.

But VandenWymelenberg wasted no time when he heard about the shortage of personal protective gear for medical workers and first responders dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March his company designated half its capacity to making face shields for health workers, built to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s standards.

While simple, the shields protect the face from splatter. The shields also protect the face masks (also in short supply) worn by health professionals, so the masks can be reused.

“We designed something within a couple of hours, and the next day we were producing 30,000 units a day. There’s just a huge, huge shortage of these for doctors and medical professionals,” says VandenWymelenberg.

Within no time at all, however, Woodchuck had more requests than they could accommodate, so VandenWymelenberg moved 100 percent of the company’s production to manufacturing the face shields.

“We’ve had orders for 1.6 million units already that we’re shipping to hospitals nationwide, ranging from Harvard University to Masonic Children’s Hospital at the U of M,” says VandenWymelenberg.

VandenWymelenberg says that he's encouraged to see that businesses nationwide are stepping up to meet this challenge on a scale he’s never seen in his lifetime.

“Here in the United States, American manufacturers are saying, ‘You know what, we don’t have time to waste...we’re gonna start to make these things right now. Let’s reach out to the people we know, let’s connect, and let’s not compete with each other, let’s compete with this virus,’” says VandenWymelenberg.