As communities across the Tampa Bay area attempt to curtail the spread of COVID-19, Scouts with Troop 11 in Brandon and Pack 107 in Apollo Beach have found a creative way to pitch in while learning about 3D printing.

Cub Master Brian Holt of Pack 107, a systems analyst with BayCare Health System, initially created an entire lab of 3D printers for the hospital’s use, including one machine loaned by fellow leader Jay Glenn, committee chair of Troop 11.

“COVID-19 came around, and we started trying to print face masks and the ear savers,” Holt said. “Jay loaned me his 3D printer, and when demand at the hospital started dying down, we returned the printer.”

Among the files left on the printer from its stint in hospital service was one for producing ear savers. These strips of plastic are designed to alleviate the friction caused by wearing face masks for extended lengths of time.

Jay and his sons, Brice, 11, and Trevor, 13, determined that they could print their own ear savers and distribute them to essential workers in the community. With some savvy editing, they were even able to print “Thank You from Troop 11” along the backs of the ear savers.

“I’ve worn a mask for a couple hours before and it already wasn’t feeling good,” Life Scout Trevor said. “I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to wear them all day for days.”

Jay said that his printer is capable of producing seven to eight ear savers every half-hour, and they can be printed in a range of sizes. These printers are able to create three-dimensional products with molten plastic applied by a small, precise nozzle. The printer applies a succession of quick-drying layers until the desired product is formed.

“It was really interesting to watch,” Scout Brice said. “Normally, you think of printing on paper, but seeing a printer build 3D objects was really cool.”

Production began in late April. As Troop 11 conducts ‘show and sells’ outside of Publix locations each year for their annual popcorn fundraiser, they wanted to show their appreciation to the staff there first. As essential businesses, most Publix locations have remained open for the full duration of the pandemic thus far.

“I personally thought that workers still going into grocery stores was such an amazing selfless act,” Jay said. “If they stopped doing that, I couldn’t imagine how things would have gone.”

In addition to grocery stores, some ear savers from Troop 11 were distributed to the staff still working at Mintz Elementary School, where some members of the troop used to go to school.

“They were really grateful for it and excited,” Trevor said. “They thought it was really kind and were thankful that they wouldn’t have the mask strap on their ears all day.”

With Holt and Pack 107 mirroring the efforts of Troop 11, ear savers are being distributed throughout their respective communities. In addition to Publix locations, Pack 107 donated a selection of ear savers to the staff of a local Sam’s Club.

“It gave me a really good feeling,” Brice said. “It made me feel like I was doing my part to help the community during the coronavirus. It’s amazing to know that you’re helping so many people through a troubling time.”

In total, Jay believes his printer has produced around 250 ear savers since the virus began, and he said future batches may be required.

The pandemic has forced many units in the Scouting movement to adapt, but local District Chairman David Carlson said that this is one of several examples of Scouts adapting to face uncertain times while continuing to serve their communities. He said many units in Scouting’s Timucua District, which consists of the southern half of Hillsborough County, have transitioned to conducting virtual meetings and campouts.

“I think it’s fantastic how the Scouts have come together to help out the community in any way they can,” Carlson said. “They saw a need and did what they could to give a little back to the community.”

Troop 11 is chartered out of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Brandon, while Pack 107 normally meets at the MiraBay Clubhouse in Apollo Beach. For information on how to join the Scouting movement, visit https://tampabayscouting.org/beascout.