CHICAGO (CBS) — A Jefferson Park manufacturer has gone from near shutdown to hiring during the COVID-19 crisis. CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory shows us the company’s hot new product that could wind up in office buildings across the county.

The virus outbreak cut like a knife at Sports Awards. Stress piled on. Not much was going smoothly for the corporate plaque and athletic trophies maker.

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“Right after the shelter-in-place order, we furloughed about 70% of our company, which is about 70 people,” Sports Awards president Jason Newton said.

A few weeks after that, Newton showed CBS 2 his mostly empty warehouse over Skype.

The virus canceled orders for trophies and plaques that would have been made for tournaments, races, and other big events.

“That’s a loss of about $80,000 to $100,000,” Newton said.

Now, the material normally used for plaques is being fashioned into sneeze guards; customized to fit countertops of any size.

“We’re starting to see these acrylic displays go up at checkout counters, and at pick-up places, and we thought, ‘Hey! We can make that,’” Newton said.

Logos, credit card information, and instructions can be applied to the sneeze guards Sports Awards is now making.

Banks and car dealerships already are calling, and office managers could be next.

“Sometimes we only have one-day turnaround, two-day turnaround,” said shipping manager Charles Patton, who was able to return to Sports Awards earlier this month. More co-workers are coming back this week.

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“We have so much production for these sneeze guards, as well as some of the other stuff that we’re doing, that we need to hire more people,” Newton said. “Laser operators, sand-blasting operators, digital printer operators. So we’re definitely taking applications every day.”

“I’ve been here 20 years, and this is craziest it’s been,” Patton said.

The staff also is making sure to keep themselves safe, while helping ensure others can be too, as the world slowly opens back up.

“You have to work in a mask all day, and then we also have to have our temperatures taken,” Patton said.

In addition to the sneeze guards, Sports Awards also is selling reusable cotton masks.

You can check out their products here.

For more information on how to apply for a job at sports awards, check out the openings they’ve posted at

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Lauren Victory