April 14, 2020
Though social distancing has changed the way we live our lives, it hasn’t changed the way our community members care for one another. To address critical, ongoing needs, Tigers have found innovative ways to adapt their talents — and existing University resources — to support our Mizzou family. Whether it’s sewing masks or delivering food and other essentials, Tigers are showing that we can overcome any challenge by sticking together.
On this week’s episode of Remote MU, we talk with Lida Aflatoony, a PhD candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management, who is part of a Mizzou team making personal protective equipment for health care workers; and Mathew Swan, a senior majoring in political science, who is the director of Tiger Pantry. Together, we discuss how Mizzou students are finding creative ways to volunteer and help our community during this unprecedented time.
Moderator: [00:00:08] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, and now to computer screens around the world, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Remote MU — a special edition series of Inside Mizzou that explores the real stories, real discoveries and real impact of our remote community. This episode of Remote MU is called, “Tigers Support Tigers.” Year round, our students, faculty and staff work together to serve every member of our Mizzou community. Though the past weeks have changed the way campus operates, it hasn’t changed our collective commitment to making a difference and to helping each other succeed. Even as they follow social distancing guidelines, some students are finding creative ways to provide vital resources during this difficult time. Tigers always look out for each other — but especially right now. And in the face of adversity, we’re showing the strength of our community and of our commitment to one another. Joining me over Zoom to talk more about this are: Lida Aflatoony, a PhD candidate in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management. Lida is part of a Mizzou team that started making personal protective equipment to meet the needs of health care workers. And Mathew Swan, a senior majoring in political science and the director of Tiger Pantry. Welcome everyone, and thanks for joining me today.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:01:24] Thank you.
Mathew Swan: [00:01:25] Thank you so much.
Moderator: [00:01:27] Of course. Lida, our first question is for you. Can you tell us more about the project your team is working on and how you all got started?
Lida Aflatoony: [00:01:35] Sure. My colleagues and I at the Department of Textile and Apparel Management are helping volunteer with the MU hospital to cut a hundred thousand protective masks. So far, we could help to cut around half of this amount, because other sources also helped the hospital to reach up to that point. We all started this project after receiving a call for help from the hospital. So, our department notified all of us who want to volunteer with help in this project could join us.
Moderator: [00:02:09] Awesome. No, that’s awesome. And so, what you’re doing is the essence of hands-on learning. So how does creating masks draw on the skills you’ve built during your time at Mizzou so far?
Lida Aflatoony: [00:02:19] Thank you for this question. Actually, I’m a product development major and most of my research area requires a good knowledge in technology. So during these past few years, I have learned several helpful technologies such as 3D printing and laser cutting. We have good laser cutting technology, which is a full spectrum laser, in our department for cutting fabrics. But no one of my colleagues knew how to work with this equipment at the beginning of this project, because of the same reason I told you, not everybody is doing design research. So this machine is primarily used in product development — or PD courses — and research. Since I’ve helped in PD courses for four years, I’ve been familiar with it. Therefore, I suggested to use our laser cut machine to mass produce all of these masks. So this would allow us to make a large number of masks. So I prepared files, trained my colleagues, and tried to lead the project in terms of technology.
Moderator: [00:03:23] That is amazing.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:03:24] Thank you.
Moderator: [00:03:24] OK. And so, Mathew, a question for you. Tiger Pantry is a regular resource available to the entire Mizzou community. Can you tell us more about the services you provide, and how have you all adapted to the demands of social distancing and the stay-at-home order?
Mathew Swan: [00:03:41] Absolutely. So, Tiger Pantry is — at its core — Mizzou’s food pantry. We provide free food assistance to students, staff and faculty at the university. And so there’s two main routes we go through. So we’ve got our pantry services where we give out monthly non-perishable items such as canned green beans, corn, soup, ramen, that kind of stuff, as well as household goods and paper goods. So, toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and then hygiene items as well. And then in addition to that we have our weekly produce. So eggs, bread, fresh veggies and fruit. And so people can come to our pantry normally to get those items. We also have our Swipes program where students can sign up to get free dining swipes to use at the all-you-care-to-eat dining locations on campus. And so previously, people who were using Pantry resources came into our location to browse through our items, pick out what they want, and so adjusting our services to meet the demands of social distancing has been slightly challenging. But we basically have moved to a curbside and delivery system. So, we have our Sunday and Wednesday shifts where people can basically submit an online order form outlining what kind of items they want and then they can just show up to the pantry and they stay in their car and our volunteers will just bring out the food to them. And then for those who are high-risk for infection or who may not have transportation because they may have been relying on the student housing shuttles, they can have us deliver the food to their homes, which has been really great. And so our volunteers, of course, minimizing any interaction they have to ensure the health of everyone. And then, of course, wearing gloves and frequently washing hands and using hand sanitizer.
Moderator: [00:05:30] Ok, alright, awsome. No, I mean, I feel like that’s a great way that you guys have found to work around, of course, the circumstances of what we’re going through. And so we see how your work has changed so far. How are you preparing to respond to whatever comes next?
Mathew Swan: [00:05:45] Yeah, absolutely. So we are anticipating an increase in the users of Tiger Pantry. We do see people, maybe their families losing jobs or secondary jobs, losing those others sources of income. And so they may not have as much money to put towards resources. And so we have seen 13 new households over the past week actually start using the pantry. And so we expect those numbers to increase as we work with various campus units to raise the awareness that our resource is there. For instance, we’re working with MU Health Care in the coming weeks to encourage their staff who may need assistance to use us. And so we are working with different groups to try to raise monetary donations so we can purchase our non-perishable items and our produce to make sure we have the resources available for people who need it.
Moderator: [00:06:40] Sounds great. Sounds like you guys are definitely planning in advance.
Mathew Swan: [00:06:42] Yeah, absolutely.
Moderator: [00:06:42] Okay. Question for both of you all. In very different ways, you’ve both been working toward providing critical resources for our community during this difficult time. Why was it important for each of you to help out how you could? Lida, we’ll start with you.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:06:59] Sure. So, in general I like to help the community in critical situations. And I believe that teamwork boosts the sense of belonging and community support as well. So another reason I joined the project is one of my relatives, Sara, who is a physician in Italy, she’s five years younger than me and works in a hospital on the frontline fighting COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, she got infected by the virus and stayed in bed for more than 20 days to recover. So hearing that was very stressful and sad for me. The main reason for what has happened is that in Italy was the lack of protective gear in hospitals at the beginning. So that’s why all the fashion companies now in Italy teamed up to produce protective gear for health care workers. This unfortunate event, actually, motivated me to join this project to help health care at MU to not face the same situation.
Moderator: [00:08:05] Awesome. Mathew?
Mathew Swan: [00:08:06] Absolutely. So I’ve been involved with Tiger Pantry the past two years now. And so, even before the pandemic I’ve seen how needed food assistance is not just on Mizzou’s campus, but in the community as a whole. And so with everything going on, with the stay-at-home orders, with people losing their jobs, or many having tighter budgets than normal, it’s really important, I think, for me and the rest of our executives to be involved in Tiger Pantry and making sure we can keep this resource open to help support our community. And we also, because we are seeing new people using the Pantry, but also we still have our users who were before the pandemic and so their needs haven’t changed. And so we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to continue providing that resource so we can get through this difficult time together.
Moderator: [00:09:01] Definitely. So how would you both say that the Mizzou community has supported the work that you’re doing? What does it say about Tiger Spirit?
Lida Aflatoony: [00:09:10] Well, first of all, I want to show my appreciation for my department, especially my professors in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management who supported my initial plans to move forward with the technology we have available in our department to cut fabrics in a timely fashion. Second, from the moment I had started this collaboration with my colleagues, I have received very positive and supportive feedback from the community. For example, from the KOMU 8 channel and journal of med school both interviewed me and showcased our project to the public. So I’m truly thankful to receive all of this support.
Moderator: [00:09:51] That’s great.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:09:52] Thank you.
Mathew Swan: [00:09:53] And so, yeah, we have seen an outpouring of support for Tiger Pantry, both just wanting to raise awareness and give to us, but then also wanting to volunteer with us. So like I mentioned, we are working on a partnership with MU Health Care to make sure their staff are getting the resources they need. And so they’re going to be helping to support our services. It’s really important with that partnership, since their workers are on the front lines handling this issue. And then we’ve also just seen a bunch of staff at the university willing to step up and volunteer with us, especially on our Wednesday shifts, which has been really awesome. And then, of course, we’ve just had a lot of people wanting to give back to us either through monetary donations or donations of food. For instance just yesterday, we did our normal produce shopping and we went to try to purchase our eggs that we normally have. The stores are limiting individuals to three dozen eggs each. And so, we weren’t able to get the normal 30 to 40 dozen we normally purchase. And so we sent out through social media a call to the community saying if we could get donations for eggs and we were able to get 43 dozen eggs just yesterday, which was outstanding to see. So it’s been awesome to see the community come together to really support us. And I think it really just goes to show that the Tiger spirit is one of just perseverance and dedication to helping others and, you know, recognizing that we’re gonna get through this difficult time by standing together and staying strong.
Moderator: [00:11:23] No, most definitely. I feel like that’s something, that’s spoke about in the last episode as well. But I think, we took advantage of having the ability to collaborate with people, especially in-person. And I think we’re seeing that kind of camaraderie be built in the midst of social distancing and seeing how important it is to actually work with people. And so the last question for all of you, some students may want to help, but aren’t sure how to get involved while also staying safe. Do you have any advice for those students?
Lida Aflatoony: [00:11:53] So I believe that the biggest help in this critical situation that we could give to society is to follow precautionary rules such as social distancing or wearing protective gear. So at the same time, we can be helpful to alleviate the stress from our community by doing our part to fight this pandemic. So this would help our sense of community support and belonging. I think that we should try to use any means or skills that we have to help our society and be kind with each other. I think these things make. Life meaningful. I know that this situation is a little bit stressful for everybody, but we truly should try to be kind with each other and try to help. However, using all the precautionary measures and being safe is the priority for me.
Mathew Swan: [00:12:47] Yeah, definitely, making sure we are following all the guidelines to keep each other safe and keep ourselves safe. And then also I think the things people can do if they have the means is help donate to different causes such as Tiger Pantry or other food pantries and resources out there. And then also just raising awareness of those. So, some people may not recognize that Tiger Pantry or other resources exist out there during these times. And so anything we can do to inform everyone else through social media or just interactions that these resources are out there. There are people there to help them during these times, I think it’s important.
Moderator: [00:13:29] Well, that…
Lida Aflatoony: [00:13:29] Can I add something more?
Moderator: [00:13:32] Oh, go ahead.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:13:33] Yeah, I just, I just wanted to tell you that if anybody in the community has basic skills of sewing, the hospital needs volunteers to sew those masks that we are cutting right now. Actually, the hospital tries to put together all of those masks in a kit of 50. In each kit, they have all supplies. So each person who is interested, they can sign up at muhealth.org/masks and sign up for receive kits and sew them at home. So, if anybody has those skills, please sign up and help.
Moderator: [00:14:13] Sounds great. Well, you heard her. If you can sew, help out. That is all the questions I have for you all today. Thank you again for taking the time to interview with us and answer our questions and give people insight on how you guys are working in the midst of this pandemic and the social distancing.
Mathew Swan: [00:14:32] Thank you so much for having us.
Lida Aflatoony: [00:14:34] Thank you.
Moderator: [00:14:35] No problem at all. Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student Niko D. Schroeder and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening with our remote community. Thanks for joining us for this special edition series, Remote MU. Stay strong Mizzou.