As the number of COVID-19 cases began to increase in March, the United States faced a shortage in numerous kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer. Like many, Christopher Tkach saw the need for supplies as a call to action. Tkach, an undergraduate student in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE), focused his efforts on finding a way to help supply PPE to communities affected by the pandemic.
Alongside his fiancée and four close friends, Tkach founded the Community Response Foundation of Western Pennsylvania Association (CRFWPA) to provide PPE and other necessities for communities affected by COVID-19. Tkach was inspired to create the organization after stumbling upon a way to manufacture face shields using the 3D-printing equipment he already possessed.
“A few months ago, I was watching various things on YouTube, and one of them talked about how you can 3D-print face shields,” Tkach said. “I showed the video to my fiancée, explaining that I should see if I could produce them, and she thought it was a great idea.”
Tkach ran a series of test prints until he was able to produce a quality face shield in an efficient amount of time. After being informed about a group of paramedics without face coverings, he printed a dozen more face shields, which became the project’s trial run. Its success would lead to the CRFWPA’s founding.
Originally from La Crescenta, CA, Tkach enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. After serving in Iraq, he returned to the U.S. and started working as a first responder, following his passion for helping others.
“Anything to increase morale around the community is something that we should all be doing for each other at any level that you are capable of doing,” Tkach said. “Every little thing counts.”
After a decade of serving as a first responder, Tkach decided that he wanted to help others in a different way. He began exploring other career paths, such as obtaining a bachelor’s degree, that would continually challenge him and allow him to grow both personally and professionally. Of these was the engineering discipline, an avenue that he believed would continually help society by providing innovative solutions to world-wide issues.
“I chose Ohio State because it ranked extremely well in factors like affordability and the cost of living,” he said. “I wanted to be able to work, focus and grow, and Ohio State gave me that.”
When Ohio State introduced remote education this past Spring, the change provided Tkach with the time to figure out a way to help communities affected by the pandemic. After donating his first set of masks, Tkach explained his idea to four close friends, Chris Hearsey, Gary Hlusko, Becky Muha and Mike Muha.
“I sat down with my friends, explaining my idea and they said, ‘that’s great but how do we do this at a level where it will be impactful?’,” Tkach said. “So, we pooled a bunch of our money together and bought three more printers, deciding that it would be more impactful if everyone contributed.”
Since then, the organization has printed and distributed over 1,200 face shields to local municipalities, hospitals and nursing homes. However, Tkach doesn’t want to just stop there. He hopes that CRFWPA will be able to provide PPE to communities on a much larger scale.
“Long term, we want to scale and supply more PPE for providers, as well as expand our coverage area,” he said. “We would love to ramp up to at least 1,000 units a month and expand further into Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.”
In late June, the CRFWPA received its 501c3 non-profit status from the IRS. Tkach hopes that this is the first step of many in accomplishing the organization’s long-term goal while helping protect those in need.
Those wishing to learn more or support Tkach’s efforts with the Community Response Foundation of Western Pennsylvania Association at www.communityresponsefoundationnwpa.org.
by Kiersten Wright