In Abilene, the heart of the region known as Big Country, a manufacturer called Tigé Boats has shifted its focus from making boats to producing personal protective equipment. The PPE, crafted from materials typically used in boat building, are going to local medical workers fighting COVID-19.
Tigé’s 200 employees initially set a goal of making a minimum of 500 face shields and masks daily, working in shifts. Within two days, the production team became so efficient that it was doubling that number. “Everyone jumped in and took pride in being part of a solution,” says Charlie Pigeon, founder, owner, and CEO of Tigé Boats Inc. “We’re now estimating producing 10,000 masks per week. Our team has been working tirelessly to support the first responders during such a tough and unprecedented time.” One social media post shows a local surgeon wearing his plastic shield in the operating room at Abilene Regional Medical Center. Tigé has also created a training video and templates for other boat manufacturers that may wish to begin producing shields, in addition to donating more than 2,000 protective suits to hospitals in the Abilene area.
Individuals in Abilene have been finding ways to help others, too, says Nanci Liles, executive director at the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I know several Abilene Christian University students who are volunteering to grocery shop for older residents in town,” Liles says. “More volunteers are sewing masks at home for Hendrick Medical Center, too.” Liles points to another community service effort offered by Dodge Jones Youth Sports Complex. Since closing the brand-new facility on March 21, Abilene Youth Sports Authority’s executive director Brandon Osborne channeled the natural frustrations into something positive. “We decided to put into practice what we tell our athletes—to take the ‘control what you can control’ mindset,” Osbourne says. To achieve this, AYSA launched the Around My Block program, which offers daily basketball, volleyball, and fitness challenges for people to follow at home via social media outlets.
Local attractions are staying busy—even if not welcoming visitors in person. The Abilene Zoo offers a live educational show on Facebook every Wednesday at 10:10 a.m., while the Center for Contemporary Arts holds art exercises like pencil portraits and figure drawing on Facebook every weekday. The Grace Museum posts history tours for folks to drive in town, as well as virtual tours of museum exhibits, on its website. Finally, since the week of March 17, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature has hosted storybook readings, lessons, and art exercises on Facebook Live Tuesday through Friday at 1 p.m. “We wanted to do online virtual programming anyway, so we hunkered down and figured out how to extend our free programming into the digital realm,” says Trish Dressen, executive director at NCCIL. “Soon, we had 100,000 people engaging in some way with the program.”
The center’s current effort goes hand-in-hand with Abilene residents’ overarching desire to serve in the most positive way possible. “I see the ability of art to heal. Now more than ever, we really need this,” Dressen says. “And the way is Abilene pulling together, we’re just doing our small part to connect with people in our community and beyond.”
“Small-Town Dispatches” is a new series from Texas Highways focused on how COVID-19 is affecting some of our favorite Texas communities, from writers who live there or live close enough to visit often.
Read more from this series.