MADISON, New Jersey (CNN) — When health care workers were running out of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States, a middle school shop teacher in New Jersey decided he had to help.
Jason Erdreich turned his own home into a factory where he used 3D printers to make thousands of masks for his community during the pandemic.
“I mean I had to,” Erdreich, 26, told CNN. “I had the resources to help, I was able to help, I couldn’t not help others that were doing so much to help us. Front line workers were, and are, doing so much to care for us, someone needs to make sure they are taken care of too. I’m glad I was able to contribute to that.”
Now Erdreich is one of 50 people chosen by Mazda to receive a new Mazda MX-5 Miata 100th Anniversary Special Edition for their “selfless acts, creative thinking, and contributions to community,” the company announced in a press release earlier this week.
Erdreich teaches woodworking, manufacturing, and robotics at Madison Junior School in Madison, New Jersey. He was nominated by his wife, Cara Erdreich, for the award, after he collected 15 3D printers from his school, hooked them up in their living room, and printed masks day and night.
But his efforts didn’t stop there. Erdreich then taught other teachers and his own students what he had learned, and together they printed more than 12,000 pieces of PPE for hospitals, nursing homes, and local frontline workers.
“I nominated you to be a Mazda hero because you were compassionate and generous in a time when people were afraid,” his wife told him in a video posted by Mazda USA showing the moment he was surprised with the car.
In its announcement, the company cited “omotenashi” — the Japanese culture of putting other’s needs first — as one of the reasons the company decided to create the Mazda Heroes program.
“This year has been full of challenges and we wanted to lean into our brand’s heritage of finding innovative ways to brighten people’s lives,” said Jeff Guyton, president of Mazda North American Operations. “We were inspired to create the Mazda Heroes program to honor all those who are working tirelessly to uplift their own communities.
Erdreich and two other honorees — an ICU nurse in Texas and a schoolteacher from Mississippi — are the initial winners with the remainder to be announced throughout the month of December.
“I was speechless, I mean I never could have envisioned something like this happening to me, let alone for something I did,” Erdreich said.
“I’m not really one for the spotlight, but this has been a truly incredible experience. I feel very fortunate, and I am endlessly appreciative to my colleagues, students, administrators, community members, and my wife that really helped make all of the PPE in the thick of the pandemic, and even more so for the frontline workers we were making the PPE for.”
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