By Regina Stracqualursi

On April 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all New Yorkers would be required to wear face masks or cloth coverings in public within two days to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Soon after his announcement, many people across the state began creating homemade masks as the nation continued to cope with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Kelly Reardon-Sleicher, associate program director of the Paul J. ’69 and Kathleen M. Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer, had already been making masks to protect her parents, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, when she learned of the mandate. Her husband, Kyle Sleicher, who owns two Snap-on Tools franchises, was hoping she could create masks for his two essential employees using company T-shirts.

The employees, who continued selling tools and tool storage products to businesses in the transportation, farming, and utility maintenance industries, wore the masks as they visited clients. “By noon on the first day our employees had the custom Snap-on masks on, we had an order for 10,” said Reardon-Sleicher. That evening, she got to work so they could keep a supply of masks aboard the trucks for their clients and decided to ask for a donation to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (MHHS), an animal protection organization based in New York’s Capital Region, in exchange for each mask.

As demand increased, Reardon-Sleicher was able to scale up her efforts with the help of her mother and father, who ironed and cut fabric for the masks. In just three weeks, Reardon-Sleicher has created over 250 masks and raised $4,000 from her efforts for the Humane Society. Like many others, the organization has had to make major adjustments to its operations in the face of COVID-19, including the decision to stop accepting the donation of used supplies.

“I am a long-time volunteer dog-walker at the Mohawk Hudson Human Society, spending Saturday mornings and holidays there,” said Reardon-Sleicher. “They are my number one choice of charity for my philanthropy efforts.”

“Long after this saga has ended, we will remember the kindness and creativity — often going hand-in-hand — that has emerged,” said the organization in a Facebook post thanking Reardon-Sleicher for the donation.