Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few months, personal protective equipment (PPE) has sometimes been very hard to come by.

On Wednesday morning, a number of representatives from small businesses in Pike County had the opportunity to collect a free PPE toolkit that includes 100 disposable 3-ply face coverings, 10 KN95 masks and one 24-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer at the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission office, located at 73 Progress Drive, Waverly.

It was a collaborative effort to help Ohio’s small businesses and their employees operate in a safer environment through JobsOhio and their network partner, Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE), along with the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, Pike County Economic Development and the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission. The initiative brought together partners at the local level as well as partners across the state. The goal of the effort was to keep small businesses safe and operating.

Each toolkit, valued at $100 dollars, provides PPE that at times has been in short supply for small businesses during the pandemic. These kits have been allocated to small businesses across the state and to companies throughout Pike County. In all, JobsOhio is distributing 15,000 Safety Tool Kits (1.65 million masks and 15,000 units of hand sanitizer).

Katy Farber, Vice President of OhioSE, which is the regional JobsOhio Partner that operates in Ohio’s 25 Appalachian counties, explained just how many supplies were being donated to help businesses in region.

“Because the Ohio Southeast Region is so large, encompassing over 14,000 square miles, we had a distribution that has had a number of layers. So regional and local offices picked things up and now we are having distribution days and drives throughout the region. We are happy to say that all 25 counties in our region are participating,” said Farber.

“In those 25 counties, we are distributing 1,600 boxes to our small business community. We are capturing all of that information so we can communicate with them in the future, be as helpful as we can, and support ‘Ohio Safe’ and ‘Ohio Working’ right here in the Southeast Region.”

Farber said all of the partners across the Ohio’s Southeast region are crucial to make an event like this successful.

“We have partners all over the region, or we wouldn’t be able to do something like this. It took one call to Shirley (Bandy, Pike County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director) to say, ‘I need some help,’ and she said, ‘Of course.’ It highlights partnership and support,” said Farber.

“Small businesses have given us feedback throughout this program. They are grateful to get a package like this. PPE is still hard to come by. The interesting thing is that it isn’t just about their employees, but working with their employees families, so they truly have a safe workplace and continuity of operations.

“We would like to thank JobsOhio and in particular, our local partners, because without the chambers of commerce, the local economic development offices and all of those people who have done so much, we wouldn’t be able to have this distribution.”

Representatives of small businesses in Pike County shared how the PPE toolkits would be of benefit to them.

“We are here today because we are a small business and trying to find PPE right now is difficult,” said Autumn Smalley with Oak Chips Incorporated (OCI). “Any time that we can reach out and have helping hands around us in Pike County or surrounding counties, we are here to help.”

Smalley indicated that she couldn’t even put into words what a help the toolkit will be for OCI.

“We have a small amount of employees, and we are buying extra (PPE) so we will have more for them to take home personally for their families,” she said. “This will help us out in helping (our employees) support their families. It isn’t just about our company. It is about our employees also.”

Pike County Commissioner Tony Montgomery is also a small business owner of 23 Southbound Flea Market.

“This is a great thing. I appreciate JobsOhio and the Pike County Chamber of Commerce for setting this up. This is a good thing for local businesses. They are worried about getting protective gear. Every little bit will definitely help to keep their business open, which is what we have to have,” said Montgomery.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last so we constantly looking to where we are going to get our next batch of supplies — whether it be masks or hand sanitizer. It was hard to get PPE in the beginning — just to have an extra supply takes a little burden off.”

Chris Ervin, of Innovative Solutions Unlimited, also known as Insolves, talked about the supplies meeting a critical need in the Piketon location.

“We have a manufacturing facility, so we have been going through a lot of PPE and masks. We are so grateful for any help we can get,” said Ervin. “JobsOhio and OhioSE has always been very supportive of our region. We are always grateful for the help they give us, and as a representative of the Pike County Chamber, I am very grateful for what those organizations do for us in Pike County.”

Entering the year, Ervin said businesses were not prepared for the shutdown or the added expense of buying supplies.

“We didn’t plan for this. We have a tight budget. We have been going through so many masks in our facility,” said Ervin. “To get anything we can donated is a huge help. I can imagine what some of small businesses in our area have been going through with the added expenses of trying to keep their employees safe.”

Brad Bapst has additional perspective in his work for Ohio State University South Centers since he is the Director of Small Business there.

“Working with small businesses on a daily basis, this resource availability is very critical to small business because so many of them are dealing with lots of other issues,” said Bapst. “One of the issues that they’ve had that we’ve talked about is securing PPE and the availability of PPE. These kits are going to be essential to them to keep the doors open. It just takes a little bit of worry out of what they have to do on a daily basis. It lets them focus on their business and not have to worry about the other things.”

Bapst feels that having this state-wide free resource could potentially be unifying for Ohio.

“An effort like this brings everyone together in the realization that we are all in this together,” said Bapst. “This is what we have to do to turn the corner, put this virus down, and make it less of a presence in our daily lives so that businesses can continue to operate. It is really critical that businesses keep doing these good safety practices, and it is going to allow them to keep their doors open.”

The Pike County Chamber of Commerce still has PPE toolkits available for any small business in Pike County that did not come to the distribution at the OVRDC on Wednesday. The PPE toolkits are for any sector of business in Pike County.

“We would like to make these PPE toolkits available to them to promote safe working conditions and keep Ohio businesses open,” said Bandy. “Anyone who has an interest or need for PPE, please reach out to the Pike Chamber. We will get a box of PPE registered for them.”

To contact the Pike County Chamber of Commerce by phone, call (740) 947-7715.

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