Signs of Hope Spurs Tenacity


hen Melanie O’Neil, BC ’03, and her husband, Brian, had to furlough all of their employees at their warehouse in Hanover, Mass., they were devastated. The novel coronavirus had caused them to halt their usual production of wooden signs. But it was not long before they came up with a new idea to make their sign business, Rustic Marlin, useful during the pandemic.

“We woke up in the beginning of all this and knew we had to do something,” O’Neil said. “The success of Signs of Hope is really a true testament that all of us are looking to be together and showing support to one another.”

Signs of Hope is an initiative that Rustic Marlin began in response to the novel coronavirus. The company is creating rectangular wooden signs that display words such as “hero” and “hope” on them.

“My husband and I were getting married,” O’Neil said in an email to The Heights. “After we searched for special gifts and couldn’t find any, we decided to make our own! Fellow guests saw the signs, and when we got home from our honeymoon, we had several requests to make more. So we started making them out of our home for fun – at first!” 

After researching other production options for their warehouses, the company decided that sticking with what it does well was the best course of action.

“We’re sticking to basically just one or two core sheets, and we’re just using different designs,” O’Neil said. “That was easy for us to accomplish, making the signs. … We tried to come up with all these creative ideas, but what we do naturally is really what we ended up doing and it worked the best.”

Local residents have embraced the initiative and are purchasing the signs as fast as Rustic Marlin can stock the kiosks.

“I purchased ‘Signs of Hope’ because I thought it was a great way to show our support for healthcare workers and others on the front lines of this pandemic,” customer Lauren Faherty said in an email to The Heights. “In addition to supporting front line workers, Rustic Marlin had also announced that they were supporting other small businesses with proceeds from the sales, which was another great reason to purchase some signs and show support.”

As well as bringing a sense of hope and joy to their community, Rustic Marlin has been able to put some of its employees back to work to manufacture and distribute the signs. The employees in the warehouse are working 10 feet apart, and the skeleton staff is preventing challenges—but it’s nothing they cannot overcome, O’Neil says.

“Demand became so great that we’ve been able to have some employees come back to work,” O’Neil said. “We worked with staggered shifts and with a very small crew, but we do have some people trying to help from home and some people working at different hours, so that we can really do that and I think it has been, actually in the end, a great thing for our business and for our community.”

It has been difficult to keep up with demand given the constraints on working, but Rustic Marlin is committed to donating 100 percent of the proceeds from the sign sales to small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

“Melanie and Brian are so generous and giving – they donated hundreds of signs to my mom’s nursing facility, which they hung up in resident’s rooms and in hallways all over the nursing home,” Faherty said. “This really lifted the spirits of both the residents and the staff, and let them know they are not in this alone.”  

O’Neil sees her goal to bring the community together coming to fruition, she said.

“Right now, if somebody drives, especially on the South Shore, even from my home to my office, I see almost every house with hearts on them,” O’Neil said. “I think that feeling of togetherness, and so many nurses say that when they are so upset and they have to go back and have another long day, it really helps them know that so many people are so appreciative of everything they do every day.”

The signs can be purchased from a variety of kiosks in Massachusetts for $20. O’Neil recognizes that the impact of the novel coronavirus is likely to not subside any time soon, so she will need to remain creative with her business.

“We plan to continue to expand Signs of Hope,” O’Neil said. “I think this is going to last longer than any of us had wanted it to, so we are continuing to add new designs and continuing to help encourage people.”

What started as a small idea to restart production in their warehouses has now turned into an “essential” item in their South Shore communities.

“So many people are coming together. … They’re coming and picking out signs from the kiosk together and they’re writing notes and leaving them on the doorsteps and porches of their friends,” O’Neil said. “So, it’s really becoming a family and community experience, and it’s amazing. The stories that we get every single day have just been blowing us away.”