As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on students mentally and financially, Berkeley Mutual Aid, a student-run organization, aims to provide quick funds for students in need.
Each week, Mutual Aid collects donations from the UC Berkeley community to redistribute to students in need of financial assistance. Any student is welcome to apply for funds in order to help them pay for anything, including rent, textbooks or food, according to co-founder Ava Taghizadeh.
“I think that the success that we’ve had in the past three weeks really shows how much Berkeley needed something like Mutual Aid,” said Sarah Lateef, social media manager for Mutual Aid. “Especially with COVID-19, our community has been stretched so much just by having to meet tuition, rent and other basic needs, so with the pandemic, we are really trying to provide as much help as we can.”
Mutual Aid at Berkeley is an extension of the Mutual Aid Network, which has branches at various other universities. The organization was founded by campus undergraduates Mallika Luthar and Ava Taghizadeh in January 2021.
To date, Mutual Aid has raised over $1,100 through social media campaigns on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in addition to partnerships with other student organizations, according to Taghizadeh.
Taghizadeh added that Mutual Aid has distributed $757 directly to students so far on a first-come-first-serve basis. Students can request funds by filling out a Google form, including a reason for why they are in need of funds, which can be found on all of Mutual Aid’s social media pages.
Taghizadeh also emphasized the distinction between charity and organizations such as Mutual Aid. Charity, according to Taghizadeh, is used by the wealthy and powerful to control disadvantaged individuals.
“In contrast, Mutual Aid aims to be an exchange among equals: sharing resources and ideas among neighbors, building relationships, trust, and collective community power, and rejecting hierarchy and domination,” Taghizadeh said in an email. “This is especially important in the context of COVID-19, when inequalities and hierarchies have become increasingly salient.”
Mutual Aid has recently acquired a fiscal sponsorship from the Academic Mutual Aid Foundation, which will help them to secure larger donations by offering tax exemptions to donors.
Since Mutual Aid is a new organization, it currently has 10 members. Lateef added that the organization is actively searching for more members in order to facilitate fundraising efforts.
“We hope to serve as a supplement by providing small grants for immediate needs that existing programs may not be able to cover, or not be able to cover in a timely manner,” Taghizadeh said in an email. “Together, we hope to build a community of support and camaraderie during this difficult time.”