For front-line workers, donning masks has become as routine as putting on shoes and socks.
Wearing them for hours at a stretch can be rather unpleasant, however. They’re hot and stuffy, it’s hard to talk, and the over-the-ear elastic can rub and chafe the skin behind the ears.
Enter Brian Ledford. Ledford has joined a national movement to distribute a new-fangled gadget known as ear savers to mask wearers.
“The front line workers are the heartbeat of America right now,” said Ledford, who lives in Waynesville. “It makes me feel really good to know I am helping somebody out in this pandemic.”
Ledford has pressed his laser printer in the corner of his den into service making hundreds of ear savers for Haywood County’s front-line workers free of charge. The simple piece of plastic fits behind the head with notches to hold the elastic straps in place rather than tugging on the ears.
Ledford has to step down from his own front-line job to stay home with his kindergartener when schools closed, but he often thought of his former colleagues who are keeping the country going.
“I just carry some with me all the time and if I see someone who could use one, I just ask them ‘would you like this?’” Ledford said.
Ledford also used Facebook to spread the word about his free earsavers. At first, he only got a request here and there from friends who saw his post.
But as retail reopened, more and more messages began pouring in from workers wanting a bundle to share with all their coworkers.
“They say ‘Oh, it would be great to get that off my ears,’” Ledford said.
Ledford has set up a rendezvous with workers in parking lots all over Haywood County to deliver bundles of the ear savers, from gas stations to grocery stores. A worker in Cherokee even met Ledford in a Hardee’s parking lot to take a set back over the mountain.
Ledford initially got a laser printer as a hobby.
“You can make almost anything you can think of. You can actually draw something and it will cut it out,” Ledford said.
Ledford heard about ear savers from the manufacturer of his laser printer, Glowforge, which sent out a call to its customers across the nation to make 1 million ear savers for America’s front-line workers.
“They got together with a medical expert to design this,” Ledford said. “It can adjust to your head size.That’s why there are so many notches.”
Ledford immediately signed on to the initiative.
Workers can submit a request for ear savers through Glowforge’s website, and the company, in turn, connects them with someone who’s enlisted in the campaign in their area.
While most of Ledford’s requests have been through Facebook, one order came through the Glowforge portal for a nurse at Haywood Regional. He sent them to her in the mail since leaving her shift to meet-up in the parking lot was difficult.
It costs Ledford about $10 for a sheet of acrylic to make 75 ear savers and about an hour to cut them out. Aside from setting a good example for his son about the importance of helping others, it’s helped provide a sense of purpose to his otherwise uneventful days at home.
“Seeing the need, I thought why not,” Ledford said.