The University’s Mutual Aid Fund, a collective formed by Student Council last spring to support students in need of financial stability through donations from the University community, has recently received an influx of requests for aid from students totaling over $12,000 since the start of the fall semester.
On March 11 — the same day that the University announced its transition to online learning due to COVID-19 — Student Council launched a Mutual Aid Fund to support students during the time of crisis by fulfilling their needs through modest, no-strings-attached grants of $100 or less.
Rachel Hightman, director of Mutual Aid and a third-year College student, said that while Student Council originally created the fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since become apparent that financial challenges are an everyday occurrence for many students.
“Those students who face the greatest challenges are often the least likely to ask for help as they have become accustomed to living off of the bare minimum,” Hightman said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “When those with an abundance of resources can share with others in need we can cultivate a more equitable community which believes that all people have a right to equal access to opportunities to succeed.”
Students can request for a grant on the fund’s website. Aid is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be used to support recurring needs such as groceries, rent and utilities, educational and technological expenses and medical expenses. Students can also use grants to support needs directly related to the pandemic — such as job loss or lost wages, travel, storage, family illness and extenuating circumstances.
“The intended end result is a more equitable U.Va. where all students have their fundamental needs met,” the fund’s mission statement reads.
In its first week alone, the network raised close to $10,000. Since launching last spring, the fund has received 460 requests for aid, totaling $42,974. So far, the fund has distributed $36,074 to 360 students. According to the fund’s five month report overview, the program’s average request is $93, while its average contribution is $165.
Upon the start of the semester, however, the fund received an influx of requests totaling over $12,000. The organization aimed to reach the aid amount by Nov. 12 — as of Nov. 14, the fund has raised $6,000.
Mutual Aid is encouraging community members to make small contributions — in a flier attached to a tweet, the fund said that 800 community members donating $15 each would fulfill the needs of recipients, and that support for the Mutual Aid Fund through recurring contributions is key to the network’s survival.
The fund plans to continue to seek partnerships with other groups dedicated to deconstructing structural inequities and oppression in society. For example, the fund has and will continue to refer all students who request aid to other resources such as the CARES Act, a law that provides funding to help mitigate the fiscal impact of COVID-19, and the Community Food Pantry, which provides food to those who need it. Additionally, the Mutual Aid Fund plans to extend funding to fulfill the basic needs of all students and staff in the future.
Donations to the Mutual Aid Fund can be made through Venmo, @UVAMutualAid, or by Paypal and Zelle to @email@example.com. Other forms of monetary donation can be sought out by contacting Hightman at firstname.lastname@example.org.