On the morning the College announced the decision to move to remote learning, Anibal Husted ’22, like many, didn’t know how he was going to meet the costs of leaving campus.
“I didn’t know how my family was going to afford a plane ticket. I didn’t know what to do with all my belongings that I couldn’t take with me. I left one box with eight different people because I couldn’t pay for a storage unit,” said Husted in a video call with the Orient.
After hearing stories about staff members struggling to pay bills and students losing their on-campus jobs, Husted and a group of five other students created a mutual aid fund to support the Bowdoin community. The fund, which launched on April 2, allows community members to request up to $400 for personal use.
So far, the fund has received more than $9,000 worth of contributions from anonymous donors. Of the 39 requests made as of Thursday, 21 have been fulfilled. According to the requests’ descriptions, the majority of the funds will assist with rent, grocery bills and utilities.
Requests and donations are processed online. Requesters must include a paragraph describing their relation to the College and details about the intentions of the potential funds. This paragraph is then uploaded onto a webpage for interested donors to see.
When envisioning how the fund would work, the six students concluded that this personal element would be important to ensure the success of the fund.
“The story and voice definitely makes it feel more personal and not like it’s a sterile donation request where you don’t even know what this is going towards or who it’s going to,” said Sylvia Bosco ’21, one of the students working on the initiative, in a video interview with the Orient.
One student requested $400 to help pay for rent and groceries after her mother—”the head of the household”—lost her job.
“Life is looking pretty rough the next few weeks for food and other things,” part of the request reads. “Moreover, rent next month will be hard to pay without making many sacrifices. Therefore, I’m requesting $400 to help pay for food and rent (coming up May 1st). Thank you!!”
Of the 39 requests submitted, 32 of them came from students. The other seven came from staff.
“I am a housekeeper and my husband is disabled. I’m asking for 350.00 for a car payment. I was doing side cleaning jobs after working to meet our bills. My husband is disabled and a diabetic, and now I can’t do the side jobs because he can’t get the virus,” reads a request from a staff member.
Though interpersonal connection is critical to the project, the group also felt it was important to keep personal information about requesters and donors anonymous.
“[Their] identities aren’t the core of our mission,” said Ben Ray ’20, another fund coordinator, in a video interview with the Orient. “The core of our mission is to make sure that people can afford the things they need and live their day-to-day life.”
Although requesters’ identities are not disclosed to the public, the request form requires contact information because each requester is assigned to a point person within the group of six coordinators. Each contact person checks in with the recipient about how they prefer to receive the grant—by check, direct transfer or PayPal. The six coordinators also follow up with the recipients after the aid has been received.
“These are members of our community that we care about. So we want to make sure that if there are other needs or other questions, or just things in general, they can reach out and talk to us,” said Amanda Trent ’20, another fund coordinator, in a phone interview with the Orient.
The organizers credit the quick success of the fund to social media. Information about the fund and the links to the request form and donation pages have been shared throughout the Bowdoin community through on-campus organizations’ social media pages and private group chats.
Although the initiative is student-led, the support of campus organizations have contributed to its success. Currently, the mutual aid network is being hosted on the Bowdoin Labor Alliance’s website.
Due to the general uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact, the students anticipate that the fund will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.
“Requests keep trickling in. And if we can expand our donor outreach to match that, that would be amazing because I don’t think anyone envisions things getting that much better,” said Diego Grossmann ’20, another student involved in the initiative, in a video interview with the Orient.
The coordinators are pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response to the fund, though they acknowledge that the fund’s existence also underscores how many in the Bowdoin community are unable to support their basic needs right now.
“The fact that we raised this much has been really wonderful,” Trent said. “But, on the flip side, the mutual aid fund is really highlighting the class differences in our community and those who have been left behind in the crisis.”