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Santa Rosa Auto Shop Shifts Gears To Make Custom Face Masks For Frontline Workers

by Sharon Chin and Jennifer Mistrot

The co-owner of a Santa Rosa auto restoration shop has been shifting gears to help protect frontline workers during the coronavirus shelter-in-place.

Ryan Nelson usually upholsters and restores cars at Pacific Coast Custom Interiors. But these days, his Santa Rosa company is using the same tools to make about a hundred masks a day.

"We're in a unique trade. It's not often that a pandemic suits your skill set," said Nelson.

Soon, the 11-year-old business Nelson owns with his mother and brother donated more than 500 masks.

They've gone to agencies that include Santa Rosa California Highway Patrol, Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, Windsor Police Department and Forestville Fire Protection District, plus banks and grocery stores.

"I think everyone's trying to do the same thing we're doing; keep ourselves busy, do something productive, help your neighbors," Nelson said.


He says the solid-colored masks are comfortable: and use a material with foam that usually lines the roof of a car. They're machine-washable, can dry out in the sun, and won't shrink.

Santa Rosa CHP received 100 masks to replace the disposable and handmade ones that many were using. Officer David de Rutte says the new ones match their uniforms.

"These are very durable," de Rutte noted. "They're made with a pretty tough material. And yeah, everybody seems to like them."

Nelson and his family are no strangers to serving others. When the 2017 Tubbs Fire burned down his house, his mother's home and displaced his brother Evan, they found a way to help during the crisis: they gave out 400 wooden sifters they made for free.

LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service

Evan Nelson said the two-by-four foot sifters helped people recover valuables in the rubble. "We had people come back and people had found rings and stuff like that. One lady found her wedding ring that she'd put on the nightstand."

While Ryan Nelson rebuilds his home in Coffey Park, he said the masks represent today what the sifters meant then.

"That was really a good morale booster and these masks have done the same thing," he said.


So for making and giving away masks to protect law enforcement and other frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ryan Nelson.

Note: Pacific Coast Custom Interiors has been making the masks without donations, but donations are welcome and can be given through the company's website. The company also sells masks for people who are not frontline workers.


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