Recognizing the impact the coronavirus pandemic was having on the North Shore, Sea Cliff resident Jaime Teich decided that she had to help her community in any way she could. She started making masks to distribute to needy Long Islanders, and although her mask-making skills were limited, she took to social media to collaborate with others who shared her goal of helping.
The collaboration resulted in the creation of Teich’s Love Your Neighbor Project in May. Since then, the organization has donated over 1,700 masks and 1,500 bottles of hand sanitizer to 15 nonprofit organizations on Long Island.
Three months in, the project celebrated its official launch party on Aug. 19 at the Sea Cliff home of Aimee Renaud, the president of Love Your Neighbor’s board of directors. All of the board members are women, so the party was scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.
Teich said she started Love Your Neighbor to help Long Island’s homeless population. But as she got in contact with more and more people who helped her make and distribute masks, she said, she discovered that there were more people in need than she initially realized.
She partnered with Stitched Together Long Island, a Facebook group comprising more than 2,200 mask-makers in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Although most of its members were making masks for first responders, she said, they started making more when Teich explained her mission of helping people who were facing financial distress.
“I had to think of what my ultimate goal was here, and the idea that came to me was equalizing accessibility,” she said. “The idea was to help individuals and families in need attain certain services, resources and opportunities that they may not be able to.”
She started working with nonprofits, providing them with masks based on how many people they serve. She also reached out to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s office, after hearing that it was distributing hand sanitizer. The county Office of Emergency Management, Teich said, provided her with 1,500 bottles.
One of the project’s local nonprofit partners is the Sea Cliff Mutual Concerns Committee. Director Peggie Como said she was thrilled when Teich made a donation of over 100 masks and 100 bottles of sanitizer. With the Mutual Concerns Committee’s Senior Lunch Program on hold during the pandemic, something that Como said the seniors miss. The seniors were delighted, she added, when they received the donations.
“It’s sort of like one hand washes the other here with our organizations,” Como said. “Everybody gives what they can give — we don’t hoard it. That’s the whole thing: You want to spread it around and make sure everybody can get it.”
Como said she believed that community members’ willingness to help one another shows that hearts are in the right place during a difficult time. It’s great, she said, to have yet another group dedicated to helping those who need it most.
No matter whom the project helps, Teich said her biggest focus is equality on all fronts, a sentiment she came to appreciate while growing up with two lesbian mothers. Although people may be navigating the pandemic in different ways, she said, everyone has the right to have their needs met.
“It stems from the idea that we’re all one, and we just have different circumstances,” Teich said. “If I have, it’s up to me to give, and I think that’s why I have a personal connection. [I do this] because of my upbringing, and to help others in any way I can and to live a life of service.”
Renaud was one of the first people to join the Love Your Neighbor Project, because, she said, she identified with Teich’s desire for equality. Everybody needs something during the pandemic, Renaud said, and it’s easy to identify those needs when people work together.
“I love that it’s hyper-localized,” she said. “I moved to Sea Cliff a little over a year ago, and it instantly felt like home. It’s a great community, but the Love Your Neighbor Project brought to light that there are areas of inequality and people who need help in our neighborhood.”
Teich is also working alongside local businesses to provide discounts for families involved with LYNP’s nonprofit partners. One of those businesses is Sleepy Jean’s Bake Co. in Sea Cliff. Owner Jenna DiPietro has offered 20 percent discounts on birthday cakes, and Teisch said that LYNP will split the remaining cost 50-50 with the families who buy them.
“Simple things like a birthday cake may be the norm for most families, but total luxuries for families battling hardships,” DiPietro said in a statement from LYNP. “Partnering with LYNP offers an opportunity to make those ‘out of reach’ moments more accessible, providing delicious custom cakes and a temporary escape from worry while creating positive memories. It feels good to be a part of an organization that is equalizing opportunities for all.”
There is no end in sight to Love Your Neighbor’s work, Teich said. The North Shore is a start, she said, but she can see it expanding in the future. “I’m really hoping to accomplish giving somebody a good day,” she said, “to let them know they’re not alone, to let them know they have a community who stands by their side and that they’re not forgotten.”