Those serving time in the Missouri Department of Corrections are stepping up efforts to help during the coronavirus pandemic, with one affiliate organization now producing face coverings for offenders, staff and others, in an effort to combat supply shortages.

Missouri Vocational Enterprises in Jefferson City made 5,000 protective face coverings over the weekend and is now producing more, according to corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann. Distribution started Monday and inmates also provided 1,100 masks for state lawmakers, who returned to session this week.

The face coverings are fabric shields designed to use during day-to-day activities and are not to be confused with virus protection masks, of which the department has some in case of an outbreak or positive inmate and is working to acquire more.

Even the non-viral masks are in short supply and with health care professionals suggesting a face covering be worn, the department began exploring manufacturing, Director Anne Precythe wrote in an email.

“In typical corrections fashion, if we can't get what we need from somewhere else, we will make it ourselves,” Precythe wrote. “Missouri Vocational Enterprises produced several prototypes more than a week ago. We asked the Department of Health and Senior Services to evaluate the MVE face coverings and we have made their recommended changes.”

Production is expected to include other facilities, as demand for the face coverings is great, Precythe wrote. The efforts accompany corrections facilities around the state, which are also contributing to COVID-19 relief.

In Bonne Terre, the chemical plant at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center began production of hand sanitizer, yielding 6,800 gallons in the first week, Pojmann said.

Sanitizer is an item currently in short supply around the world and more than 1,000 gallons made at the facility will be distributed to the prisons, to Cremer Therapeutic Community Center, other community supervision centers and the Transition Center of St. Louis.

The clothing factory at Jefferson City Correctional Center is making 4,000 protective gowns requested by the Missouri Veterans Commission. The toilet paper factory in Cameron has also ramped up production. With an additional 600-800 cases being produced each week, it now produces 3,500 cases — about 336,000 rolls — every week.

“Whether times are good or times are challenging, we are a committed and professional organization that the public can count on,” Precythe wrote. “They are relying on us.”