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Duluth bag company offers to halt production to make masks instead

"If there's any way that we can start putting our efforts in going to work every day towards helping this cause, we'd love to do it."

DULUTH, Minn. — Christian Benson has had to make hard decisions recently. 

The owner of Frost River, a small business in Duluth which makes hand bags, has had to temporarily close the storefront as they focus on online sales, and cut part-time workers.

"We just said, 'we'll bring you back when we can,'" Benson said. "We were at about 30 employees until last week, when obviously everyone's world [was] turned upside down."

But that stress is nothing compared to what Benson's wife, an anesthesiologist at a Duluth hospital, is experiencing. 

"As an anesthesiologist, she is on the front lines," Benson said. "They're very concerned about the supply chain associated with PPEs."

PPEs, or personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, is in short supply across the country. 

With hospitals running low, business have stepped up. 

Fiant Dental in Minneapolis donated 500 masks and 1,000 gloves to Children's Minnesota. 

Credit: Fiant Dental
Fiant Dental drops off masks and gloves to Children's Minnesota.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity donated 7,500 respirator masks to Hennepin Healthcare and M Health Fairview. 

It's a need not lost on Benson. 

"I'm saying, why are we making bags at this time when my wife is coming home absolutely panicked?" he said. 

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Benson is offering to halt Frost River's production, so his industrial sewing machines and the people who know how to use them can make masks and other protective equipment, instead. 

Credit: Frost River
Frost River's Duluth store is now temporarily closed as the company focues on online sales.

"I mean, I realize that an N95 mask is not something that we're going to be able to make ... but I also know that what I can produce is better than a bandanna tied around your face," he said, referencing CDC guidelines which say a bandanna can be used in place of a mask as a last resort.

But Benson needs the right materials to make the masks. He says he's communicating with lawmakers and 3M hoping to get in touch with someone who can help. 

"We need the connections," he said. "If there's any way that we can start putting our efforts in going to work every day towards helping this cause, we'd love to do it."

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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