On the day Hurricane Hanna made landfall in South Texas and left Rio Grande Valley communities flooded and hundreds of thousands without power, ABC’s “Good Morning America” reported the storm was hitting the area between Corpus Christi and Brownsville — calling this “a good spot, (since) there’s not a whole lot of population there.”
The following day, community members created the Rio Grande Valley Mutual Aid and began receiving donations later that night, showing that the Valley was in dire need of aid.
In addition to the GMA segment, Andrea Juarez, an organizer with RGV Mutual Aid, said what further propelled the group to start the fund was a tweet from Gov. Greg Abbott.
“This is how Texans respond to hurricanes,” the governor tweeted in response to a video showing two people eating Whataburger during the storm in a parking lot. “‘It’s raining sideways right now and we can’t ‘expletive’ move. But we got @Whataburger.’ So, we good.”
Juarez said Abbott’s tweet insinuated that the Valley was fine, “when we’re not, along with the fact that we have been dealing with COVID,” she said. “We’re a low-income community.”
She also acknowledged feeling a sense of helplessness and frustration watching elected officials “not really do anything.”
“It’s very infuriating and very frustrating to watch, so sometimes you just got to take initiative,” Juarez added.
Within the first hour of funds’ creation; it raised $1,000 — now a week later the fund has raised more than $35,000, according to the funds’ website.
“We take care of each other and seeing all those numbers is really, really inspiring,” Juarez said.
Earlier in the week, Juarez said RGV Mutual Aid redistributed $10,405 in donations to nearly 40 families across the Valley.
In the days following the funds’ creation, Juarez said they received more than 300 requests for aid.
“We’ve raised a lot of money, but we also have way more requests so it might seem like a lot, but we actually need a lot more because a lot of people are in need right now,” Juarez said.
Due to this, Juarez said they had to close the funds’ request form until they could take care of the backlog.
The hurricane’s impact has left Valley residents dealing with multiple issues, including flooded homes, whose roofs collapsed, and spoiled food as power outages extended for days, to name a few.
However, the damage goes beyond infrastructure and necessities as Juarez explained.
Uniquely, Juarez mentioned people suffering with COVID-19, who requested aid due to a lack of mobility due to the virus. She said through RGV Mutual Aid, they’re able to pay to house these individuals. Other requests include the need for specific medication or ice boxes for storage.
“It can be a little overwhelming to see that everyone needs the same amount of need, but to these people it’s their whole lives and we really can’t forget about them, so we’re trying to keep up with a wait list,” Juarez said.
RGV Mutual Aid is run by people who are doing it in their free time, in addition to their other jobs, which as a result, provides another challenge to them: recruiting more volunteers.
“We’ve got so many requests that it’s been hard since there’s not so many of us at first, but we’ve also got a lot of volunteers to help us,” Juarez said.
With volunteers, Juarez explained their aid contributes to the process of going through every application and requests to log information in an Excel sheet.
“We try to prioritize low-income people, people from colonias, undocumented people that won’t get any financial help,” Juarez said. “We’ve been trying to move as fast as we can with the amount of people and resources that we have.”
Additionally, Juarez added volunteers are assigned to their roles based on what they’re comfortable with doing. She explained volunteers have different roles they can choose such as logging information, contacting people, arrange meetups for individuals who require cash, to name a few.
Overall, she explained the creation of the RGV Mutual Aid was to prove the strong sense of community in the Valley.
With such an overwhelming and positive response a week in, Juarez said they hope to increase outreach as much as possible.
One such way would be by aligning themselves with local businesses in an effort to spread the word about their cause.
“We really are not asking for people to give us their trauma story, we don’t want to humiliate anyone or anything like that,” Juarez explained about how the fund decides who to help. “We’re really just going off of trust and I could feel like people appreciate that and are grateful they don’t have to go through some process like another government fund.”
With its easy accessibility, Juarez acknowledged some may be skeptical or uncomfortable donating to them specifically. As a result, Juarez said they created a main social media account on Instagram for transparency.
“We want to let people know we are not hoarding any funds or trying to scam anyone,” Juarez said. “We want to let people know in real time.”
Juarez said the fund also encourages donations to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley in Pharr instead.
“We need people to trust us that they’re donating to a good cause, but we understand their skepticism as long as they’re donating to some type of community based fund or funds that will go back into the community,” Juarez said. “That’s all that matters, that’s the reason we started it.”
INFO BOX: For more information, visit @rgvmutualaid on Instagram for latest updates. To donate or apply to be a volunteer, visit https://linktr.ee/Rgvmutualaid