DUNEDIN — The Our AIM Foundation has been providing basic services and necessities, such as food, water, education and shelter, in impoverished and developing communities around the world for more than a decade.
But since the coronavirus crisis exploded into a global pandemic, killing thousands worldwide and causing shortages of everything from toilet paper to medical supplies, the Dunedin nonprofit has turned its attention toward helping fight the spread of the virus in the United States and abroad.
According to foundation president and founder Nisha Mandani, Our AIM has been providing masks, hand-washing stations and coronavirus education for the people of Malawi, Africa, as well as producing and delivering masks for front line workers in the Tampa Bay area since the crisis began in March.
“My husband and I started making masks on March 27 when we first heard about the need,” Mandani said by phone recently. “We made as many as we could, and then I called a tailor I knew and asked if we could hire him to help. When he heard what we were doing he offered to do it for free.”
Mandani said they now have more than 100 people working on masks in seven cities across the country, and to date the team of “angels” has produced 10,000 masks in Malawi and another 15,000 in the U.S.
“We have 100 volunteers — we call them our ‘angels’ — from 5 to 85 (years old), cutting the fabric, sewing the masks and then delivering them,” she explained. “In Malawi, it’s a huge undertaking. We are helping 126 villages, and we taught sewing to women who have never held scissors in their hands in their life. Now, they are walking eight hours a day to make masks for eight hours a day, and they love it because they are helping their community. The masks are treated like gold.”
In the U.S., Mandani said Our AIM has produced 15,000 masks for frontline workers at area hospitals and assisted-living facilities, as well as for sanitation workers, police departments and first responders.
“We gave 300 masks to the Alstott Family Foundation for distribution to the St. Pete Police, St. Pete Fire Rescue and Belleair police departments,” she said. “And we’ve delivered thousands of masks to front line workers and facilities throughout the Tampa Bay area. We make sure they are benefiting those who really need them.”
Like many others who have repurposed their businesses during this unprecedented global health crisis, Mandani said the work has given many a newfound sense of purpose.
“We have an 85-year-old woman, she has serious medical issues and doesn’t leave her home, and she hasn’t stopped working on these masks,” Mandani said. “Her daughter told her she needed to rest, and she said, ‘No. It’s my time to give back.’ And I think the best part of all this is the best of everybody is coming out. We have a choice of sitting back and complaining or doing something, and many are choosing to do something. You feel happy to be productive and giving back to this society.”
Recently, Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski sent Mandani a letter praising Our AIM’s efforts.
“On behalf of the city of Dunedin, we wish to thank the Our AIM ‘Angels’ for their time, care and creativity for delivering the handmade masks to all during this global pandemic,” Bujalski’s letter read. “During this crisis, we are grateful to have such kind hearts like the ‘Angels’ of Our AIM Foundation to add a glimmer of hope, a smile on faces and touch hearts throughout the United States and Africa.”
When asked how long she planned to continue the mask-making efforts, Mandani replied, “We’re willing to go on doing this as long as it’s needed. Even if we saved one single life through this, it’s worth it.”