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Jacob Faithful had to be true to his name when he started his new business.
When COVID-19 hit, he had just started a janitorial business in Frog Lake, Alta. But with the pandemic worsening, clients approached him to see if he had masks and other personal protection equipment.
A light bulb went on.
He spent the next several months calling suppliers around the world and eventually sent money to China for a machine that would allow him to make his own masks.
Then he waited, hoping the thousands of dollars he’d spent were not in vain.
His company, Young Spirit Supplies, hit the ground running on March 4. His is the first mask manufacturing plant on a Canadian reserve that is fully owned and operated by Indigenous people. Faithful said every mask they’re making until the end of the month has been spoken for.
“When a person’s well-being and a person’s safety [relies upon] a piece of material on your face, there’s a certain amount of responsibility that comes with that, and stresses that I wasn’t aware of before,” said Faithful, who wanted to work for himself after years of working for other people.
“Overall, I feel very proud,” he said. “I feel like I’m making a difference in the world. I feel like I’m saving peoples’ lives.”
The facility produces masks that are Level 3 on the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) scale. Level 3 masks are used at places like dental clinics. The business makes about 80 masks per minute, Faithful said.
The biggest challenge so far has been international shipping delays. Even in Frog Lake, the Suez Canal blockage affected them. The company is still waiting on raw material to make about 1.5 million masks, Faithful said.
“Going from working on a service rig in the oilfield to importing things from all over the world, it’s been a steep learning curve,” he said.
The company is 49 per cent owned by Frog Lake First Nation, Faithful’s home community about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. It operates under an Ottawa company’s manufacturing licence.
“Jacob loves his community, and you could tell by him reaching out to us,” said Greg Desjarlais, chief of Frog Lake First Nation. “I think that what he did was very honourable and we will not forget that.”
Desjarlais said he’s hopeful the business will sustain itself and health centres across the province will support it.
“It’s a community effort now,” Faithful said, “and I’m very proud to be able to bring something special to the community of Frog Lake.”