UW-Eau Claire alum shifts business to produce masks for health care workers and the public

Steve Kriesel raises funds to aid with the personal protective equipment shortage

Pictured+is+a+pre-production+sample+of+a+medium-size+mask+with+tie+downs+that+Kriesel+plans+to+produce.+

Photo by Steve Kriesel

Pictured is a pre-production sample of a medium-size mask with tie downs that Kriesel plans to produce.

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Steve Kriesel, the co-owner of Torpedo Bags and Glenn Cronkhite Custom Cases, is switching some of the production of his textile company based in Minneapolis to produce CDC-compliant face masks.

Kriesel, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1995 with degrees in music education and English education, said he is ready to help the local communities fight the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Kriesel has created a Go Fund Me page in order to produce 10,000 masks for distribution in hospitals and public gathering spaces.

 “This is something we can do and this is something I feel like I need to do,” Kriesel said. “We’ve been working really hard trying to get as much help as possible.”

Kriesel said he has been trying to get in contact with the governor and different agencies to get traction with officials who have access to emergency funding.

So far, the conversations have been unsuccessful, therefore, he needs more people to notice and share his fundraiser as quickly as possible, Kriesel said.

“I know this will save people’s lives and that is my motivation,” Kriesel said. “The fact that my wife, her aunt and her brother are on the front line as health providers motivates me.”

If they reach the $50,000 target, Kriesel said the funds would go directly toward the production and the masks would be donated to as many people as possible.

The Eau Claire community is stepping up to fund Kriesel’s project and a trio of Eau Claire-based businesses, Green Point Properties, Casey’s Creamery and Eclipse Powder Coating, are committing $10,000, Kriesel said.

Kriesel’s wife, Gina Kriesel, who is a surgical nurse at Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis, said there is not an overstock of masks hospitals can rely on and there is a serious shortage of PPE everywhere.

“The anxiety is constantly going up, as we know we are not well-supplied for what is yet to come and we’re re-using masks that we normally wouldn’t re-use,” Gina Kriesel said.

Gina Kriesel said the movement toward supporting businesses like Steve Kriesel’s should be a priority, so they can make similar products for people in need. 

“It should be done ahead of time, not as it becomes necessary,” Gina Kriesel said. “When you don’t have anything, you do the best with what you do have and we’re at a point of accepting alternative options.”

It is the best time to be overcautious to protect ourselves and others around us, Gina Kriesel said.

“Not having enough people, not having enough respirators, not enough PPE,” Gina Kriesel said, “it’s frightening as a health care worker not to have enough to help the people who are coming in when you know how to.”

While the masks his textile company plans to produce will be less effective than the standard N95 ones, Kriesel said they will offer 70 percent protection.

“I think it’s important to do this work. If we’re able to, we should,” Kriesel said. “It is an overwhelming situation for everybody and it is disrupting so many lives, but we’re trying to make the best of it.”

Klavina can be reached at [email protected]