U.S. Sen. Susan Collins visited Little River Apparel in Belfast, Oct. 21 during a pass through Belfast that included an earlier stop at potato processor Penobscot McCrum.

Collins said she was interested in the manufacturing side of Little River Apparel. But also, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she wanted to see firsthand the chemical and biological weapons-resistant suits that make up the bulk of the Belfast manufacturer’s line.

Collins also mentioned the federal funding that partially supports LIttle River’s parent organization, Group Home Foundation, which employs a large percentage of people with physical disabilities.

“I’m very impressed that this business employs people with disabilities and gives them an opportunity to work,” she said before taking a tour of the factory.

Little River Apparel employs 244 people making the chemical-warfare suits, but also more pedestrian military apparel, like rain suits and petroleum-resistant garments.

Harold Siefkin, director of Group Home Foundation, said the nonprofit benefits from federal “set aside” programs like Ability One — formerly Javits-Wagner-O’Day, a program with roots dating to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration — that employ people with severe disabilities manufacturing goods and providing services for the federal government.

On Thursday, Collins circulated among workers bent over sewing machines, automated irons and fabric cutters, surrounded by heaps of green digital camouflage-patterned fabric. Collins asked them about the processes and inquired as to whether they liked their work.

Most said they did, including Joshua Lambeth, who was cross-pressing seams on the legs of chemical and biological weapons-resistant pants.

“I’m glad you like the work,” Collins said.

Lambeth said, “I’m glad to have job.”