Easterseals RISE participants joined the workforce at Mastercraft Inc. in LaGrange during a national emergency, as companies across the country turned their machinery and expertise to making supplies for the COVID-19 pandemic.
For 50 years, Mastercraft has designed and built furniture for recreational vehicles. Last year, Mastercraft added a new product line built on their sewing know-how: personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
Executives at Mastercraft asked Easterseals RISE for help, and the agency responded by assembling a crew of workers known as a supported work group. Starting in October, as protective garments were sewn by the thousands at Mastercraft, workers from Easterseals RISE folded them, packed them in boxes of 100 and labeled the boxes for distribution.
The Easterseals RISE participants proved to be a great help. They are dependable and consistent, Mastercraft President Clif Reynolds said.
“They tend to have smiles on their faces,” Reynolds said. “Attitude is important, and they have an attitude that carries.”
“The best part about this job is getting to meet new people and just getting along with other people,” said Jim, one of the workers in the Easterseals RISE group.
As Mastercraft returned its full attention to outfitting RVs, the crew from Easterseals RISE found a new role.
At plants in LaGrange and Shipshewana, the company makes many different pieces of furniture for RVs, including pull-out couches, dinette seating, hide-a-beds, recliners, thickly padded swivel chairs and plush captains’ chairs. Jayco, Keystone and Forest River RVs are among the company’s largest customers.
That furniture needs upholstery covers. Those covers are sewn inside out, then loaded into bins for other workers to reverse and fold. That’s the job Easterseals RISE workers do now. Usually, four participants work a 9:20 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. Bins full of inside-out upholstery covers are delivered to their work area, and they turn them right-side out and fold them. Carts filled with the folded covers are moved to other areas of the plant to complete furniture.
There’s a knack to develop in reversing and folding the covers. Cody is exceptionally quick. He finds a central point to grab in a cover, and snaps it like a stiff, ungainly whip, reversing it in seconds.
“I like it a lot. I’m a hard worker,” Cody said. “I like to move quickly. I like to do different jobs here.” Cody often runs out of covers to turn right-side out and looks for other work. Frequently he turns to trimming the fiber cores of piping for edges and seams in upholstery.
“These guys do a really good job,” said Virginia Fuentes, an Easterseals RISE staff member who works with the group. “They’re pretty independent.”
Sixteen Easterseals RISE participants work the four positions at Mastercraft, rotating the days they work there.
Fuentes said workers in the group also watch for defects as they reverse and fold the covers. For example, sometimes a zipper isn’t lined up correctly in a cover. Removing defective covers from the production stream is another contribution they make to Mastercraft’s business.
“They free up a lot of time for other people to do other jobs,” said Doug Cline, who is vice president of manufacturing at Mastercraft. That’s particularly important now. Cline said about 195 people work at Mastercraft ─ about 25 short of ideal staffing.
“It’s pretty good. I like working here a lot. You meet new people,” said Frankie, another man who works in the Easterseals RISE group.