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The Male Model Making Face Shields to Combat New York’s COVID-19 Crisis


Back in February, after months of ironing out contracts and securing visas, model Benji Staker was gearing up for a month-long working trip to China. Unsurprisingly, his plans were forced to change. “When the pandemic hit, it was a pretty big blow to me,” says Staker, who also moonlights as an artist. “I had been planning my year ahead based on that paycheck, so I paid six months for an art studio ahead of time.” His next step came as more of a surprise. Another source of income for Staker is catering work, and after a few weeks of panic, his staffing lieutenant reached out to him with the offer of an alternative means of working through the pandemic: helping to manufacture face shields for New York City medical workers.

The Male Model Making Face Shields to Combat New Yorks COVID19 Crisis

“It was really a saving grace to me because not only is it work, it feels really good to be doing something to help right now,” Staker continues. “Maybe it’s not the most important thing in the world, but every bit of safety that we can offer these doctors that are in danger is a good thing.” Operating out of the Consortium fashion showroom and event space in the Meatpacking District, the team of around 40 are a mix of those who had previously worked for the showroom, and those who had been drafted in via the catering company. “It's been nice, because these are people that I've worked with before in a different context, but there's a whole different team that I've gotten to know, and the owners have really worked hard to make sure it’s comfortable and safe,” he adds.

The Male Model Making Face Shields to Combat New Yorks COVID19 Crisis
Photo: Courtesy of Benji Staker

Together, the team have now spent over six weeks producing plastic medical shields for the New York City Department of Health, recently hitting the halfway point of fulfilling their initial contract of a million shields. “If we hit our daily quota they either get us pizza or make us cocktails at the end of the day,” Staker notes. He describes the camaraderie between those he’s working with as a blessing, noting that many of them come from similarly creative backgrounds but are also out of work and wanting to help. “It’s nice to meet up daily, and while we’re doing this menial labor, we can vent to each other, or offer encouragement. It’s cathartic.”

The Male Model Making Face Shields to Combat New Yorks COVID19 Crisis
Photo: Courtesy of Benji Staker

And while the process of delivering the shields is overseen by the city—they pass through a middleman to be inspected and undergo a second round of sanitization—there have still been moments of reassurance that all their hard work isn’t in vain. “There was actually a documentary being filmed and part of it was filmed here, as one of the people that works in the factory is also a producer. Immediately after they went to a hospital with the deliveries and they showed us footage of the unpacking and their gratitude,” Staker adds. “It’s quite separated, so we don’t always know who we're sending the masks to. But we can see what's been going on in New York and the real need for these things, and that's validation enough.”

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