Over four days, an online fundraiser launched by members of Penn's Mexican student association, Mex@Penn, has raised more than $45,000 to aid relief efforts for a recent earthquake in Mexico.
Students launched the fundraiser on GoFundMe in the wake of a series of strong earthquakes that have struck Central Mexico, killing more than 305 people in Mexico City and surrounding states. Proceeds from the collection will be donated to the Mexican Red Cross to provide relief across Mexico.
Mex@Penn President and College senior Sagid Manriquez, who launched the fundraiser, said he and other members of the group decided that they needed to do something after seeing images of the earthquake on social media.
“Most international students from Mexico here at Penn are actually from Mexico City,” Manriquez said. “Fortunately, nothing happened to their families but there was a lot of material damage.”
They decided that the best way to help with relief efforts would be to fundraise by asking for donations from Penn students.
“When we started the campaign, we thought we would only reach Penn students and the Philly area,” Mex@Penn Social Chair and Wharton junior Santiago Gomez said.
But the campaign quickly spread beyond the Penn community. As of Sept. 24, the GoFundMe has raised more than $45,000 of their $50,000 goal.
Manriquez said the success of the campaign is largely due to publicity efforts by public figures in Mexico like the singer and actress Belinda Peregrin and the former Mexican presidential candidate Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, who retweeted a post on the fundraising campaign.
“[Quadri] actually retweeted me like three times,” Manriquez said. “He has thousands and thousands of followers, so it started becoming viral.”
Gomez said that while the description on the GoFundMe page described the group and the goals of the campaign, many donors said they wanted more details in order to feel comfortable donating funds. To assuage these concerns, Mex@Penn began shooting videos that better explain what its campaign is meant to do. They hope to post these videos on the GoFundMe page.
“We got a lot of emails [saying] 'Who are you guys and what are you guys going to do with the money? We need to see a receipt,'" Gomez said. “We thought a good way to respond would be for them to see our faces and us to explain who we were and what we’re doing.”
Mex@Penn Vice President of External Affairs and College and Wharton junior Antia Vazquez is from Mexico City. She said she wasn't initially too worried about the earthquake because there had been one with magnitude of eight [on the Richter scale] just two weeks before that did not cause as much damage. She realized the scale of the disaster after speaking with her family and seeing images of the destruction on social media.
Vasquez added that she experienced minor earthquakes almost daily while growing up in Mexico City, but earthquakes of this scale are rare.
The Mex@Penn campaign is focused on raising donations for the Red Cross right now, but they hope to expand the campaign to collect donations for organizations involved with urban reconstruction in the coming weeks, Gomez said.
“Even though the first impact of the catastrophe is now, we have to realize it’s an effort that’s still going to go on for a couple of weeks, a couple of months,” Gomez said.
Inspired by Mex@Penn, several students from Puerto Rico created their own GoFundMe page to collect donations for victims of Hurricane Maria, which caused widespread damage to the island on Sept. 20, killing at least 10 and leaving millions without power or cell service. The mayor of Puerto Rico capital San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz said it might take months for electricity to be restored in the city.
The "Students with Puerto Rico" campaign seeks to raise funds for Unidos Por Puerto Rico, a public-private charitable initiative created by the office of Puerto Rican first lady Beatriz Isabel Rossello to provide aid for those affected by the storm. It has raised more than $20,000 towards its goal of $50,000.
“From the beginning, we were talking and calling people from other schools. We really want to be a united effort as a way to consolidate funds and make our impact bigger,” said College junior Andrea Barreras, one of the three Penn organizers of the campaign.
They worked with representatives from roughly 85 other universities across the U.S. to organize fundraising efforts at their respective schools.
While Penn students from the Central Mexico area said their families have largely escaped the impact of the earthquake, Barreras said virtually every student from Puerto Rico she knows has family members affected by the hurricane.
“[Three and a half] million Americans are without power, are without security,” she said. “USA Today has written an article about ‘Check whether your cruise destination has been ruined’ and I don’t think people are taking into account the humanitarian crisis that exists.”