Lions partnering to help make gowns, masks

The Detroit Lions are partnering with a Detroit nonprofit sewing operation to try to help provide hospital gowns and face masks to hospitals in Michigan in need of supplies to fight the coronavirus.

What started as conversations over the past few weeks among The Empowerment Plan, the Lions and other local companies began to take shape over the past few days as they tried to determine how they could best help.

The donation from the Lions will cover the wages and operational costs of The Empowerment throughout the month of April. While Lions coach Matt Patricia and linebacker Jarrad Davis spearheaded the start of the donations, players and staff throughout the Lions are also contributing.

"The gowns and masks they will produce will be appreciated by the heroes in our hospital systems fighting this battle as they risk their own lives to save others," Patricia said in a statement. "I'm also thankful for the many staff-behind-the-scenes in multiple organizations who have made this operation come to life."

The Empowerment Plan typically makes coats that double as sleeping bags, and all of its industrial sewing machine operators are hired from shelters throughout Detroit.

"We are looking to produce hospital gowns and face masks, surgical face masks," said Veronika Scott, CEO of The Empowerment Plan. "We are partnering with an organization called ISAIC [Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center] locally along with a few other small companies to make this possible.

"Our goal is to be a feeder to local hospitals for these critically needed items."

The plan, Scott said, is to continue prototypes while starting to train her workers next week while producing masks. Her hope is to create 6,000 masks per week when fully operational, but she said she couldn't give an exact number until more logistics are finalized.

"We know that there's a clear need for our coats, and we paused production on that right now," Scott said. "This is another product similar to the product that we already make that is needed by the community desperately.

"We feel like we have a unique opportunity to come together with other nonprofits, other organizations, and fill that need. That's huge for us while also simultaneously maintaining the jobs and the stability of those that we serve."

With the mask project, Scott said up to 15 industrial sewing machine operators will return to work after coat operations had been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Scott said she's been able to keep paying her employees during the stoppage.

The idea to create gowns and masks had already been started by Scott and ISAIC when she began to field calls -- including some from people connected with the Lions -- asking what help was needed.

While the cost is still unknown, Scott told ESPN that the Lions "are looking to cover as much as possible. They have been very generous."

Patricia has been in contact with Empowerment Plan board chairman Steve Hamp, who is the husband of Lions' vice chair Sheila Ford Hamp.

Patricia told the Detroit News that he reached out to players -- starting with Davis -- to see if they would also assist.

"Everyone is trying to do their part right now and for us to be in a position to help others, we are very fortunate for that," Davis said in a statement. "My teammates and I are grateful to be able to partner with people who inspire so many in this community."

The Lions have partnered with The Empowerment Plan in the past as part of the "Inspire Change" program that provides money and services to organizations around Detroit.

The New England Patriots have also donated money to The Empowerment Plan for coats in the past. The team's lead counsel, Robyn Glazer, sits on the board of directors. When some members of the Patriots started migrating to Detroit to play for the Lions, they helped grow the partnership between the organization and the team.

This is the latest effort from those within the Lions organization to help during the pandemic. Running backs coach Kyle Caskey and his wife held a fundraiser to provide meals through the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit, and quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly, donated thousands of dollars for meals through local restaurants to hospital workers and first responders, and gave $100,000 to local charities helping with COVID-19 relief.