It started as a little thing. Just a gesture.
Eric Gever’s sister, Stacy, who lived in Brooklyn, told him how closely the coronavirus had come. Two of Stacy’s roommates had become ill, and Gever started noticing New York in the news every night when he came home from his job as an engineer at Boeing.
About the same time his sister was conveying this terrible news, Gever heard about a Cornell University robotics club in Ithaca, New York, that was making face shields for hospitals.
At first, Gever thought he would use one of his 3D printers – he has four of them in his home in Cypress – to make 100 face shields and donate them to New York.
Gever is a problem solver. That’s literally his job working in a secret space program in Seal Beach.
He didn’t know when he was making them, that his face shields would never make it to New York. The need was much greater much closer to home.
And his early idea – those first 100 face shields – would become something so much bigger than that.
The attraction, he said, was to fixing stuff that wasn’t working right.
Eric Gever was raised in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He was in the chess club. He loved computers. He built drones and robots. He went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private research university, to study engineering. Founded in 1924, the school’s motto is “Knowledge and thoroughness.”
He was an honor student. “Just an average honor student,” he said.
“I was not only interested in learning how things work, but also how to make things better,” Gever said.
Boeing, with offices in Seal Beach, noticed. It hired Gever in 2007 for an internship. Then for a permanent job in 2008.
“I knew nothing about California,” he said. “Moving here was a big deal. I was always used to seasons. I was used to a little more space.”
In 2012, he got an idea. He convinced nine friends to contribute $250 apiece to buy a MakerBot 3D printer. Each of the 10 owners would keep the printer for a month at a time.
Gever was inspired.
“With a 3D printer, I can create anything that is on my mind into a physical object,” he said. “I can think of ideas and make them come to life.”
Something to help?
Not only did he become inspired, as he worked on space projects, Gever began to inspire others.
He became a robotics mentor at Marina High School, then later at Long Beach Poly. He now sits on the board of directors for the Orange County Robotics Alliance.
During the first week of March, Long Beach Poly was a semifinalist in a regional robotics competition in Del Mar. The team built a robot that could shoot a ball into a goal. Gever had plans to go to robotics competitions in Orange County, then the world championships in Houston in April.
After the coronavirus hit, those were canceled.
He found himself going to work each day at Boeing, surrounded by more people getting sick. A woman tested positive in the cubicle across from his. There were three other positive tests among the 400 people working on the same secret project.
That was when he heard from his sister how bad it was in New York.
“Maybe there’s something that could be done,” he remembers thinking to himself.
Gever spent $200 to buy clear plastic squares, and then he programmed his 3D printer to make the ring that hooks over the clear plastic and around the wearer’s head. He was ready to ship that first batch of 100 to New York.
He sent an email to administrators at the UCI Medical Center to tell them that he could make a second batch for them. They declined because they had enough face shields. But they put Gever in touch with Mission Hospital.
That’s when everything changed.
Mission Hospital needed help. Immediately.
On March 27, Gever decided to donate his first batch of face shields not to New York, but to Mission. New York, Gever figured, already had used 3D printers to help their hospitals. Misson’s Dr. Rick Kozak sent him a note: “You can be sure that the use of your shields will save a life, and possibly many.”
Then he got another idea. If he could do it, so could anybody with a 3D printer and his know-how.
He started recruiting robotics teams from high schools and colleges. He started getting offers of help from professional engineers. His parents and family friends started contributing money.
He sent 300 face shields to Mission Hospital.
Students, teachers and mentors from Long Beach Poly, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Long Beach and other schools started helping. Currently, there are 14 robotics teams making face shields and mask straps.
More than 100 people have joined the effort. They have a GoFundMe page and a website: socalcovidresponse.com. So far, they’ve raised $16,000 with a goal of $25,000.
“Everyone in this project is helping in their own way,” said Gever, who has turned his garage into a distribution center. He is making daily trips to the post office.
His growing group has now made 10,000 face shields and 1,500 mask straps.
They have sent items to about 100 hospitals, nursing homes, veterans centers and dental offices across the United States, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida.
“It’s amazing,” Gever said. “Everyone is so appreciative.”
‘Making a difference’
This isn’t just a fundraiser. This is real.
Gever got a call when a Kaiser facility in Baldwin Park needed face shields for their overnight staff. They wanted them NOW.
The hospital sent someone to Gever’s garage at 1 a.m.
“They took all the shields I had,” he said. And he gave them happily.
On a recent Monday, Gever had 900 shields on the floor of his garage. He was boxing them, getting ready for a post office run.
“The requests have been flooding in,” said Aaron Dolgin, an aerospace engineer who is working with Gever. Dolgin is also a robotics coach in Santa Clarita. “It’s amazing how fast this has all grown.”
He shows his students pictures from the SoCal Makers COVID-19 response website. The photos of workers wearing face shields are coming in from all over America.
“I tell the students, ‘You are making a difference,’” Dolgin said.
Eric Eichinger is a mentor for a robotics team with students at Sunny Hills and Brea Olinda highs.
“It really is an important effort and people like you help teenagers realize that they can be of assistance,” Eichinger said. “It brings me hope for the future to see inspirational people like Eric (Gever) and the students from my FIRST Robotics team (7157) joining forces to combat this pandemic.
“With each of them helping our front-line responders I know we will beat this thing.”
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