Student Activists raise funds for service workers amid pandemic
Ann Vettikkal | Staff Writer
Although school is currently out of session, three students at MHS are using the time off to stay productive and help others.
Senior Alex Madaras created the Service Workers Mutual Aid Fund on March 15 upon hearing that all bars and restaurants had to close under Governor Mike DeWine’s order due to the COVID-19 virus. Madaras said that she was worried about the service workers who would be without pay indefinitely. She joined forces with junior Raghav Raj who voiced similar concerns to start a fund that would reduce the workers’ financial stress.
“I thought, ‘what’s going to happen to service workers who need that income to survive?’” Madaras said. “A lot of them already don’t get paid anywhere close to the minimum wage because they’re tipped workers. If they can apply for unemployment benefits that might take a while. And what if they’re undocumented?”
Madaras said she was inspired by a mutual aid fund in New Hampshire and decided to start the same thing for Ohioans. Later, junior Mariah Norman joined the team and they opened the fund to anyone in need as their outreach grew and the amount of money raised pushed the boundary of their goal.
“It started out with a $500 goal which we thought was going to be super ambitious,” Madaras said. “We had no idea we’d get to this point. I contacted Mariah because I knew she had a lot of friends who were activists and would be interested in helping us out. ”
Currently, the fund has raised over $10,000 and 60 people have applied to receive aid before the team had to cap off the requests. Applicants simply have to fill out a Google form where they ask for a specific amount of money. The team of high schoolers gave help to anyone who asked. Norman said that even though they couldn’t provide full funding for everyone, the aid helped chip off a portion of their financial burden.
“[Giving aid] was mostly chronological so that we don’t have to decide who’s the most in need or prioritize people who requested less money over people who needed more money just so that it was fair,” Norman. “It worked out because when we asked the question on the form, it was more of how much money do you need and people would say what they needed like $2,000 for rent. But in the end, they were super grateful for any money that could help contribute to making that amount.”
Norman said that helping people in whatever way she could amidst the impacts of the economic downturn touched her and revealed the power of community which started from just a few teenagers who found a problem in need of fixing.
“Everyone has lost something to this virus whether it be the rest of your senior year, your spring break vacation, prom. And [many service workers] have lost their single source of income in a day. I think just the fact that we can come together as a community and have this kindness of so many people donating. And we’re not backed by huge organizations — we’re just three high school students making a difference in people’s lives.”
The virus’ effects have also created a time of great uncertainty as normal routines involving school and social outings have been put on hold. Raj said that this fund has transformed the negative energy around him into something that is actively creating something positive in people’s lives.
“My main motivation for this comes from handling all of the stress and anxiety and trying to channel all that into something productive,” Raj said. “It’s really easy at this time to feel discouraged and disillusioned. I’m really happy that we were able to channel that into something that is tangibly helping people.”
This fund has not only helped the people who will receive its money. Madaras said that it has inspired other cities to help their own communities, creating a ripple effect of “empathy and the courage to reach out.”
“We’re sharking skills and talking to people that we don’t even know,” Madaras said. “And that’s the beauty of this type of organizing is when you’re not confined to an organization, you build connections with strangers and now you have a bond that is based on helping other people. It makes organizing feel less transactional and more compassionate. And that’s been the most gratifying thing about this. It’s not charity. It’s community.”
Graphics contributed by the Service Workers Mutual Aid Fund.