From Safety Walls to Personal Hygiene, Food, and Masks
Vista, CA –Whether it’s keeping the community fed, creating safe spaces, promoting hygiene, or making personal protective gear, companies and organizations in Vista are helping the region get through the COVID-19 crisis.
“Many companies and organizations in Vista are rising to the occasion and either pivoting their business model or information and resources creating products/solutions to help the community deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” said Judy Ritter, the Mayor of Vista.
Below we take a deeper dive into a few of these Vista-based businesses that are making a positive impact.
Feeding Vista and North County …In December 2019, the San Diego Food Bank moved its location from San Marcos to Vista. Thanks to Vista’s city leaders, who helped make this move a seamless success, the nonprofit increased its space from a 5,000 square-foot facility to a 30,000 square-foot building, complete with proper loading docks and refrigeration units, allowing room for nearly a million more pounds of food for North County residents in need of food assistance.
“We received approved funding from Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond to pay for new refrigeration,” stated San Diego Food Bank President and CEO, James Floros. “It has exponentially increased our ability to serve North County.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time. During this COVID-19 crisis, the need for San Diego Food Bank’s services have increased dramatically. “Before COVID 19, countywide, we were feeding about 350,000 people a month,” Floros said, adding that estimated, that calculates to about 10 families a day. “Now, we are seeing between 200-to-300 families a day,” at the Vista facility.
The Vista location is termed a “client-centered” location. Under normal circumstances, this location offers a choice pantry which is like a little market. Clients can come in and choose the foods they feel best suit their families. However, currently food is pre-packaged and received via a drive-thru distribution. “We have canopies set up with all the bins of shelf staples, fresh produce, and all the great foods families need,” said Floros. “They just have to drive through for services.”
Kevin Ham, who also serves on the North County Advisory Board for the San Diego Food Bank and helped relocate the Food Bank to Vista, has helped guide local residents to information and resources such as the San Diego Food Bank during this critical time. “The City is grateful to have the San Diego Food Bank in our own backyard and we are ready to support their efforts in any way we can to help improve the lives of Vista residents and the greater North County community.”
Floros welcomes the aid of the City and the many partners the Food Bank works with throughout the county. “We have about 130 nonprofit partners in North County,” Floros said. “We’ve increased the amount of products going to those agencies right now.”
He added that during this crisis, things are moving very fast. “Every day we change things that we would have never even thought of doing.”
For instance, when Harrah’s shut down, the Food Bank sent trucks to the location to pick up and package the casino’s excess food supply that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Floros adds that being a local organization benefits both the cities they work with and their residents. “One of the great things about being local is there’s not a lot of bureaucracy, so we pivot, we create a strategy, and we go.”
Part of the strategy is ensuring that the Food Bank stays strong through this time. “We have 200 distribution sites across the county plus a network of 500 nonprofits; it’s not any more scientific than making sure we have enough food in the food chain. We have been doing some mass distributions. We went to Del Mar FairGrounds and the South Bay.”
Flores said that there are two things that are imperative during this time – volunteers and donations. “We need volunteers to help sort and package the food. We have been doing pretty good on the volunteers.
“We really need financial contributions because we are ordering great amounts of food. In fact, last week we put in a $1 million order for food. That’s countywide but that is unheard of for us and we are already preparing our next million dollar order.”
“Vista residents are rallying to our support.” Floros said, adding that the Food Bank has worked hard to maintain a trustworthy reputation. “What’s gratifying is we have developed relationships. People know us and they have confidence in us. We have respect in the community and so the community is really rallying around us, and people are coming to us, asking how they can help.”
Several Vista businesses have already begun assisting the San Diego Food Bank. Some of these include:
- Vista Unified School District/The Ameritino Foundation – donation
- Dr. Bronner’s – Soap/Hand Sanitizer donation
- Walmart Vista – Vista, food donation
- Booze Brothers – Virtual Food Drive
- Vista Chamber of Commerce – Vista volunteer, donations
- Mama ‘n Papa’s Pizza – volunteer, food donations
This outreach comes with gratitude from Floros. “Thanks to all my staff from top to bottom – it’s a testament to how well they are doing and those relationships where people trust us and want to come to our aid. It’s very emotional for us.”
He added, “I’d just like to thank the North County region and particularly Vista. They’ve been wonderful hosts to our facility here. We are very proud of what we are achieving here. It takes a community to feed a community.”
Residents can find information at www.sandiegofoodbank.org/gethelp. The site distribution calendar is updated weekly. Anyone who would like to make a financial contribution can do so directly at https://sandiegofoodbank.org/.
Creating Safe Spaces …Another Vista-based company that is helping to “rebuild” the community and beyond is McCain Manufacturing, a leader in American made manufacturing. The company’s modular wall systems and eco-friendly products are the go-to designs for top companies worldwide, including Apple, Starbucks, Facebook, and Los Angeles and San Diego International Airports.
McCain’s containment walls are also currently being used at the UC San Diego Healthcare System and the VA hospital because of their unique and sterile design.
“The modular design provides users the flexibility to reconfigure from a temporary partition to a containment room, using the right components,” said CEO Jeff McCain.“Made from aluminum and finished with a high-quality powder coat finish, hospitals can use these walls, and clean them every time before the next use.”
Right now in this pandemic, McCain walls are used by the CDC at Boston Logan International airport. “Suffolk Construction Boston was tasked to create a secondary screening area. They had in their inventory 400 feet of McCain Walls that they were using for a construction project. They took those same walls, and in less than 14 hours, reconfigured the systems into the requested screening area for passengers, as well as two triage rooms to treat passengers who showed symptoms of the coronavirus.”
McCain’s support during the COVID-19 crisis is the company’s top priority. “We are dedicating 100% of our resources to have readily available an inventory of modular walls systems and containment rooms, making sure that we prioritize all COVID-19 and expedite as needed,” McCain said.
The Vista manufacturer is currently in talks with the US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) about the kinds of solutions they can create for these organizations.
McCain added that these walls are multi-purpose and can be reused. “In many cases, our solution goes beyond a temporary solution of creating partitions, containment rooms, and such. The lifespan of these walls and containment rooms extend beyond the current use when no longer needed as part of the COVID-19 efforts. They can then be moved and used in temporary living quarters or to support homeless initiatives.”
McCain pallet of coated walls
McCain Manufacturing is still open in part because it is considered an essential business, but McCain has taken precautions to ensure that his employees and staff are working in safe conditions.
“The safety and health of our employees is very important to us and it comes first. Besides practicing social distancing, we’ve taken measures within our facility to ensure we keep our employees safe. One of those measures is putting in place a work-from-home initiative, where those employees that can work remotely, and can continue to do so, providing support to the company and our customers.”
Not only is McCain Manufacturing working to help various industries through the current crisis, the company is also looking to the future and creating solutions for those who will continue to be affected by the aftermath of this pandemic.
“The economy unfortunately is going to suffer a crippling, long-term effect, and one of the sectors directly affected is going to be affordable housing,” said McCain. “There are millions of people who are facing the loss of their jobs and regrettably will find themselves in need of finding refuge with other family members. As a provider of McCain Homes, a line of modular accessory dwelling units, we offer an affordable solution for the new wave of generational living.”
While many of us would like for all of this to be over soon, McCain expects it will last for a while. “We plan to use this time to focus our engineering efforts on the development of new products, including expanding the line of modular ADUs. Needless to say, while many businesses face the uncertainty of having to close their doors, we keep ourselves very busy and optimistic about what the future holds.”
Making Hygiene a Priority
From its beginning, Dr. Bonner’s has included activism in its mission. “Dr. Bonner’s has been an activist company, dating back to the 1940’s when our founder, Emanuel Bronner would speak, first on street corners, and then in auditoriums as crowds grew, to call on the human race to unite, while selling his peppermint castile soap on the side,” said Michael Milam, Dr. Bonner’s Chief Operating Officer.
An assortment of Dr. Bonner’s products
“Carrying forward that same activist spirit, it is our mission to continue to use the company today to fight for and financially support causes we believe in, including community betterment and youth programs, regenerative organic agriculture, fair pay & fair trade, animal advocacy, and drug policy reform.”
Right now, Dr. Bonner’s is displaying this spirit, generating its popular soaps and hand sanitizers at a rapid pace. “Our hand sanitizer is being produced at 500% of our usual rates,” Milam said.
“We are doing our best to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our employees and community,” he added. “For Dr. Bonner’s, this goes hand-in-hand with meeting the needs of our customers. Soap and hand sanitizer are essential tools to help keep COVID-19 from spreading and to help maintain public health, and for this reason and others, we believe it is important to continue manufacturing our products for as long as we are able to safely do so.”
In addition to making its product available for sale to customers, Dr. Bonner’s is donating 2% of all hand sanitizer production to at-risk communities, low income populations, and the organizations that serve them, including the San Diego Food Bank. Donations have been made across the country to cities including San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco.
Dr. Bonner’s is able to stay in production because the company is classified as an essential business. “The City of Vista helped ensure we were classified as an essential business by connecting us to the right people and resources, which has allowed us to keep operating, keep our staff employed, and enables us to make sure that the soap and other hygiene products we produce continue to be available during this public health crisis. We are very grateful for that,” Milam said.
As an operating business during this uncertain health crisis, Dr. Bonner’s is doing everything it can to keep its staff and employees safe. They have instituted staggered shift times to keep employee distance within the factory and to keep entrances and exits from crowding.
“The number one thing we are doing is everything possible to make sure we are helping our employees stay safe, increasing PTO for all our staff, and increasing pay for our factory and on-site workers,” said Milam, adding that all employees who can work remotely are doing so.
As people are washing their hands and improving their personal hygiene at this time, Dr. Bonner’s is grateful that so many put their trust in the Dr. Bonner’s products. “We deeply respect and appreciate the trust our customers put in us and our product.”
Because this high demand has caused a slight delay in delivery, Dr. Bonner’s is asking for patience when placing orders. Milman would like to add, “We are doing our best to fulfill orders and make our products available to those who need them. Please buy only what you think you need, so that everyone who needs our products can obtain them.”
“This is an important time to remember that we are all connected and need to look out for each other, now more than ever.”
Converting Diving Masks into PPEs
For over 70 years, Ocean Reef has been a leader in the underwater diving industry. Ocean Reef moved to Vista in October 2019. The company, which mainly caters to divers, makes a variety of products, from fins to snorkels, underwater communications, and diving masks. Additionally, Ocean Reef’s parent company Mestel Safety, based in Genoa, Italy, creates protection equipment and safety masks for the military, first responders, health care professionals and other industries.
In early March when the COVID-19 pandemic took a hold in Italy and began spreading rapidly in the US, Mestel Safety submitted an international patent for an adapter that would connect any of their full face snorkeling masks into emergency personal protection equipment (PPE) to be used in hospitals, research facilities, institutions, universities, first responders, or where any essential workers might need it.
Ocean Reef diving mask converted with filter
A benefit of these PPE’s is that although the filter is not reusable, the masks are reusable. They can be sterilized in boiling water or in a dishwasher.
Mestel Safety’s CEO Sergio Gamberini issued a statement to address the seriousness of this pandemic. He said, “It is a very hard time for the world. For the first time, we are experiencing a global war, in which all of humanity without distinction of language, religion, or race is fighting against an invisible enemy. We must react with determination, and togetherness.”
He went on to explain how Ocean Reef and Mestel Safety have adjusted their workload at this time. “Our business diversification has allowed us to switch our production and use our skills to realize self-protection equipment, essential to reduce the risks of this pandemic.”
This includes assisting hospitals and institutions worldwide. Adapters have just begun being distributed to the company’s dealers in the US and can be found online.
As an essential business, Ocean Reef is still open for business in Vista and the company has implemented best practices, travel restrictions, and workplace social distancing and or remote arrangements for all employees. Gamberini said in his statement, “Our facility in Vista (California) and the headquarters in Genoa (Italy), are still operating, making sure to guarantee the safety of all employees and high customer service levels for our customers.”
Helping in stressful situations is not new to Ocean Reef. In 2018, the company provided the Integrated Diving Masks (IDM) that were used to help rescue the 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand. The company also sponsors the non-profit Diveheart, which works with children, veterans, and people with disabilities to improve confidence and independence through scuba diving experiences.
Gamberini ended with these inspiring words: “When this storm is over, we will have to treasure what we have learned from this experience, to avoid similar tragedy to happen again. We are still working. We are still planning, not only to go through this current situation, but especially to feel stronger and wiser for when the sun rises again.
Staying Vista StrongThe City of Vista continues to work to assist its business community and residents to work through this pandemic. The City has set up a resource page with services, phone numbers, and updates to help guide local business owners, residents, and people who work within Vista to find the information they need to stop the spread of COVID-19 and find ways to move forward in the coming months.
Economic Development contact for the City of Vista:
Economic Development Director