CT member named SMART Army Member of Year for work done early in pandemic

February 16, 2022

SMART Local Union 40 (Hartford, Conn.) member Joe de la Cruz, from New London, has been honored with the Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service award for the sheet metal sector for his work to kickstart a national campaign to bring nose strips to thousands of volunteer mask makers cross the United States and Canada at a time when masks were in short supply.

At the start of the pandemic, the Hillery Company, a custom metal fabrication shop located in Groton, began posting messages on its Facebook page announcing that the company would donate the nose strips to anyone looking to make masks.
“Hillery was asked by a local nurse to make the aluminum strips used on N95 masks so they could sew them in the cotton masks being made by volunteers around the country,” said de la Cruz in a message posted to the company’s Facebook page on April 6. “I posted a picture showing a small box of strips on March 24th and it went viral.”

“We received requests from hospitals and small sewing groups from every state and Canada,” he added. With thousands of requests totaling more than 800,000 nose pieces in less than a month, requests quickly outstripped the company’s capacity to fulfill and ship all the orders. De la Cruz reached out to Local 40 leadership for help. The response was immediate – union locals and union sheet metal contractors from across North America joined the effort he started and crowd-sourced mass production of the small metal pieces with 17 million pieces shipped to over 27,000 individuals who requested them.
Brother De la Cruz, also a Connecticut State Representative, has displayed the epitome of what being a union member and being a SMART member is. For his important contribution at a critical time, he has been awarded the Joseph J. Nigro SMART Army Service award.