Masley Glove’s Community Rallies to Help Recover from Hurricane Ida Flood
While we typically celebrate our clients for their joyful successes, the Delaware SBDC also recognizes that some businesses show strength and resilience when recovering from what seems devastating. While disaster struck Wilmington, Delaware in 2021 with the flooding from Hurricane Ida, the SBDC joined the rest of the Delaware business community (Congressional delegation staff, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and more) to support business owners like Donna Masley as they worked to recover.
The usual whirring machines and assembly noises at Masley Enterprises’ glove manufacturing facility came to a stop on the morning of September 2nd, 2021. Owner Donna Masley and her staff waited through the night to see how their building would fare as the rapidly approaching Hurricane Ida rattled the East Coast.
Around 5:00 am, Donna worked with her employees to carry everything upstairs as the water continued to rise throughout the first floor of the facility. “There was no time for crying! Fred [Masley Gove Team member] was using the forklift to move things upstairs until our forklift just ran out and died.”
The decision to leave was extremely difficult – worried about the safety of the Glove Team, Donna knew they had to exit the building.
“I was last out,” said Donna. “The ship was sinking. I wanted to retreat up the stairs, but my staff would not let me.”
Having already waded through chest-high water to escape, there was no question in Office Manager Kim Allison’s mind – it was time to get Donna and lead her out of the building.
“The good thing is that Kim got me out – I remember throwing a cardboard box over the fence, and grabbing a black marker – wow, this is a good story!” she joked. Donna’s 36 years of experience as a pediatric intensive care nurse kicked in, and she began treating the situation like any other emergency.
“It was pretty intense – I threw that box over the fence, they threw me over the fence, and the minute my feet touched the ground we were writing lists and planning. Kim was on the phone with ServPro in minutes. She was right next to me doing exactly what we needed.”
Wilmington’s entire riverfront was impacted by the flood – over 200 people had to be rescued by the city’s emergency services in the days following the storm. Donna spent a minute recalling the emergency help station set up by the City on Thatcher Street and was so thankful to see people getting support when almost everything had been damaged or lost. “I never felt sorry for myself – I went over covered in mud, but that was the worst of it. I saw people who lost their homes, who lost everything. I realized – I’m fine. Seeing the devastation the flood brought to everyone our city was… horrible.”
It was clear that her quick-thinking leadership ensured Donna’s team stepped into action to begin the recovery process.
“I told the staff to just… come in tomorrow and we’ll make a plan.”
Worried about making deadlines for orders, she was most concerned “that we wouldn’t meet delivery dates for our soldiers.” She thought “oh my god, we have to get our gloves out.” The priority was getting every machine back up and running. “We were worried about losing all the sewing machines. We just started mucking and cleaning out everything – the power washing and due of WD-40 made an incredible difference.”
Donna laughed as she recounted the bustling clean-up process that included a rotating crew of mud-covered volunteers, bins full of donated rags, endless pizza and sandwiches, and a whole bunch of WD-40. “They always saw me coming for every single one of those tiny little cans – I think I took every WD-40 from the Home Depot and Lowes. The spirit and positive attitudes of everyone around me were incredibly inspiring.”
Knowing everyone’s skill sets, Donna and her team divvyed up the tasks to maximize efficiency. Habitat for Humanity, the “F3” group (Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith), good friends, and skilled workers like contractor Bill Boone helped to clean, paint, and re-assemble all the metal, wood, tables, machine parts, and more. Volunteers from a local church helped with cleaning glove tools. Donna’s sister-in-law and niece dove into a water-logged toolbox, taking out each minuscule screw or tiny machine part and cleaning everything with WD-40. “Our signature was blue tarps out there in the parking lot every day with items drying in the sun.”
“Our subcontractor drove down from Massachusetts to help out – Kevin Smith from Habitat for Humanity donated wood, and a scrap metal vendor from the neighborhood stopped by daily to pick up our waste metal… this was a community effort.”
With countless calls and volunteer hours from family, friends, and a long list of supporters, Donna knew they would make it through. “I don’t want to ever ever go through that again – but I know that the community here and my relationships with people have made a difference. My husband and I’s mission was always to give back to the community, and this time the community really gave back to me. It was heartwarming.”
The team spent days in working outside in the sun. Having lost her husband and business partner Frank to stage 4 melanoma in 2016, Donna was quick to provide hats and sunscreen – she even drove over to Goodwill one evening before it closed to buy hats for those on scene. She cares for her team, and while holding them to high standards, she knows that the foundation of good business is simple – caring for her employees.
“The whole experience was about spriit and generosity. Our mission of the business is to always make a positive impact on the community – this time, the community made a positive impact on me!”
As the river water receded and the facility picked up with manufacturing again, the team seems to have returned to some sort of new normal. In just 18 days, the staff returned to work and got caught up with orders to provide multiple types of specialized gloves to the U.S. military. While everyone seems relatively unphased (and there is not a speck of mud in sight) there is one physical reminder of the storm, or rather, what may have gotten the Masley facility through it all.
On the wall leading upstairs, displayed is a Red life raft buoy that was caught in the debris floating down the river through the flood – it made it’s new home in the parking lot of the facility. This small red inflatable let Donna and the Masley Glove Team know that help was here.
“I know it was Frank – he was there with us in the storm saying, ‘hold on, help is coming.’ And he was right.”