Former locals turn their company into facemask factory to help out

Magne Shade Production Manager Shirley Elling (left) works with owner Clare Hunckler to sort cut-out pieces of the facemasks the company has been making for healthcare workers.
Magne Shade Production Manager Shirley Elling (left) works with owner Clare Hunckler to sort cut-out pieces of the facemasks the company has been making for healthcare workers. Photo provided.

A couple of former Huntington residents have joined the fray in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming their company into a mass-produced facemask factory.

Roger Hunckler and his wife, Clare Eckert Hunckler, own Hunckler Fabrication LLC, which makes Magne Shade magnetic vehicle shades. They both graduated from Huntington Catholic High School and moved to South Carolina before settling in Mocksville, NC. There, they built a successful business that has created a huge demand, employing 24 people at two manufacturing locations in Raleigh, NC, and Mocksville.
When the novel coronavirus started to become prevalent in the U.S., the Hunckler family realized they had the right setup to help produce a hospital-grade facemask that hospitals need, Roger Hunckler says.

“It started when the pandemic hit and we started hearing masks were in short supply,” he explains. “Two of my daughters are nurse-practitioners, one in pediatrics and one in oncology. … They were getting a lot of information from their friends that are nurses all over the country.”

The project is called “Cover the Curve.” Hunckler’s daughter Michelle Stokes began putting the mask covers together, and Magne Shade refitted its CNC equipment to cut the pieces out.

“We can actually digitize the patterns. … We created that digital file and then send that over to the CNC machine. It just cuts them out like pies coming off a conveyor belt,” he says. “It’s called the ‘Olson Mask’ – that’s the preferred mask that the hospitals want to use when they get in short supply.”

The Olson mask can cover the main mask – generally an “N-95” mask – extend the life of the main mask for a longer period of time, Hunckler says. The Olson Mask is comprised of two layers of fabric that has a slot so filter material can be inserted, adding greater protection.

Magne Shade’s equipment can cut about 150 pieces or more of the pattern per day. The demand for the finished product is so great that Hunckler has hired four or five part-time workers who do nothing but sew the masks together. But the company is committed to donating what they’ve made, to do their part in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Roger and Clare both pitch in and help.

“We’ve had people from all over contacting us, wanting the masks,” he says, “from hospitals, a nursing home in Indiana, nurses in Florida, the rescue squad. We’re making 50 to 100 for them. … We can make thousands.”

One of the challenges to constructing the masks is finding the right materials. Hunckler says they have had trouble purchasing 1/4-inch elastic, and non-woven fabric is also in short supply, a headache for both Magne Shade’s project as well as other businesses and individuals who are also trying to make the masks. He welcomes any donations of the elastic and fabric so they can continue to produce the much-needed masks.

And while the mask production is in full swing, so is Magne Shade’s first business – that of producing magnetic exterior shades for RVs, cars and trucks. Despite the worldwide pandemic, Hunckler reports there is a “huge demand” for Magne Shade’s products, keeping his staff busy.
Hunckler says he knows first-hand from his daughters that nurses have had a tough time wearing adequate personal protection equipment as they do their jobs, making for some scary moments as they fight an enemy they cannot see.

“Nurses are having a real tough time with this right now. It’s just a bad situation, but we’ve got the resources to make maybe a dent,” he says. “We have shipped hundreds of masks and sewing kits and we have hundreds more ship that are in process, and requests from health care providers are flooding in.”

There is a form on the Magne Shade Facebook page, “Magne Shade - Hunckler Fabrication LLC,” that healthcare organizations and workers such as doctors, nurses, hospitals, rescue units and nursing homes can fill out to request the masks. They are also recruiting additional people to sew masks and donate them so Magne Shade can supply them to medical professionals at no charge.

“We’re also looking for donations of some elastic and some fabric. You can also make the masks out of cotton fabric,” he adds. “If everybody did a little bit we can do a whole lot. Like my mother-in-law always said, ‘Many hands make for little work.’”