–By Emily Castellanos for FIU News
A spring biology graduate is proving you don’t have to be an essential worker to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an aspiring physician, Amanda Pina saw health care workers face a shortage of personal protective equipment. It was unsettling.
When a mentor mused about selling face shields, Pina thought of the countless healthcare workers who needed protection but likely couldn’t afford to buy their own gear. After all, not everyone in health care earns as much as a doctor. And while the virus has taken a bite out of the economy, most bills don’t stop coming.
Together, Pina and her mentor who owns a cheerleading and dance gym hatched a plan to provide personal protective equipment to health care providers in need. She partnered with a manufacturing company, Shield Safety Solutions LLC, and the non-profit organization Project K.I.T.E., which offer potential sponsors tax deductible benefits. Her vision became reality, and the new initiative – Shield America Now – was born.
Since the gym was closed during the pandemic and Pina’s job as head coach was put on hold, it became the manufacturing facility for Shield America Now’s face shields.
Just one week after launch, Shield America Now made its first donation of 30 high-quality and durable face shields to doctors and nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“Donating to Mount Sinai was such a rewarding experience,” Pina said. “It was so nice to see all of our hard work in action.”’
It took a lot of hard work to get things going. The initiative started with 15 volunteers from Pina’s inner circle of friends and Alpha Xi Delta sorority sisters. She then reached out to FIU’s larger Greek community. The ranks of volunteers quickly swelled to 100.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without our volunteers. They basically run the entire program.”
Volunteers were split up into four teams. Six volunteers eventually assembled an average of 100 face shields a day while practicing safe social distancing procedures and wearing their protective equipment.
The delivery team hand delivers the assembled shields to hospitals and clinics and ensures the health care workers are content with the equipment.
Sponsorship and marketing teams work remotely. The sponsorship team finds organizations in need of equipment and seeks sponsors who are willing to cover the cost of materials to make the face shields. The marketing team runs Shield America Now’s social media platforms.
“I felt a little bit useless not being able to do much during this pandemic besides just staying home, so when Amanda told me about this opportunity, I was very excited,” said Juanita Cardona, an FIU public relations student who runs the marketing team. “Not only have I been able to help people that are risking their lives alongside an amazing team of volunteers, I’ve also gained experience in volunteering for a non-profit.”
Despite the country slowly starting to reopen, demand for donated personal protective equipment hasn’t slowed. Shield America Now is beginning to offer aid to other states.
“We plan on making a big donation to a facility in the New York/New Jersey area since they were the most in need that we’ve recently seen,” Pina said. “This donation will be making a huge difference.”
Production will continue at the cheerleading and dance gym, in an unused classroom.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, she predicts the demand for personal protective equipment will remain, especially in developing nations.
Pina hopes she’s done a little bit of good.
“When the virus broke out, people were scared and wanted to stay home, but I wished I could be out there doing something to help,” she said. “If you show people your kindness, they’re going to do an act of kindness back. I hope that something like this will inspire someone else to help the community too.”
For more information on Shield America Now, please visit their website or find them on Instagram @shieldamerica.