Students lead hurricane relief efforts, Tisch College organizes in support

Ali Dorneo from the women's swimming and diving team discusses the Swim-A-Thon fundraising event, during the Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response meeting in the Rabb Room on Oct. 19. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts undergraduates have responded in force to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, launching fundraisers and staging supply drives with the aim of helping residents of the struggling U.S. territory.

At the same time, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life is working to support those efforts through the Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response group, a new student-administrative group that aims to support existing efforts to aid the communities affected by Hurricane Maria, as well as those harmed by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma earlier this year.

The most recent student-led fundraiser, the Tufts Athletics Swim-A-Thon, was held this past Sunday in the gym’s Hamilton Pool. The four-hour event, which involved many sports teams swimming laps in the pool, raised over $9,700 as of press time, according to the event’s Crowdrise fundraising page.

The Swim-A-Thon‘s inspiration came from Tufts’ Swimming and Diving team, according to event organizer and swimmer Jessica Fan. Fan, a junior, told the Daily in an email that the swimming and diving team has a strong emotional connection to Puerto Rico, host to the team’s winter break training sessions for several years. 

“Some of our best memories of being on the swim team [have] been from our time spent [in Puerto Rico],” she said. “When the hurricanes hit, many of us wished to give back since the island had given us so much.”

Tufts Essential Medical Supplies and Activism for Inequities and Disasters (EMS-AID), which formed last academic year in response to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, aims to provide essential medical supplies to underserved communities and raise awareness about disasters. The group held a medical supply collection drive last week.

Co-President Eric Pretsfelder told the Daily in an email that President Donald Trump’s politicized response to Puerto Rico has ensured it the airtime that the Venezuelan crisis lacked.

Pretsfelder, a sophomore, said that EMS-AID has focused on gathering medical supplies for the people of Puerto Rico, particularly those in the southern part of the island. He said that the event was a success, and that supplies would be sent to Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico for distribution.

The swimming and diving team and EMS-AID both said that they also received support from Tisch College’s Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response group.

Mindy Nierenberg, senior director of programs for Tisch College, said the Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response group was founded after a student approached the university this fall about developing student-led fundraisers for hurricane survivors in the Caribbean. According to Nierenberg, students currently interested in realizing their own fundraising efforts can seek funding assistance from the Tisch College Fund for Civic Engagement.

Nierenberg and Marian Woznica (LA ’17), student outreach coordinator for Tisch College, brought together students and administrators interested in organizing relief efforts for a brainstorming session in early October. The group decided to form a centralized student relief efforts hub.

“Rather than [having] people do a bunch of individual efforts, making individual decisions about where to send any money that they raised, [we decided] that there would be one university fund and that there would be a board of students representing all different interests [to decide where and how to disperse raised funds],” Nierenberg said.

Woznica said that the new group is still in development, and it has not yet finalized its founding vision. But even so, the group has been eager to help students stage their own fundraising efforts.

“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for students to do whatever they want to do in terms of hurricane relief,” she said.

EMS-AID and the Swim-A-Thon were largely self-reliant in the planning and staging of their respective fundraising events, Woznica explained. But she said that Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response did help them spread awareness on social media.

The new group also hopes to make use of Tufts resources by calling upon the diverse set of students and staff members that make up its board.  The University Chaplaincy co-sponsors the group’s weekly meetings, and Reverend Greg McGonigle sits on the board.

“Often, working with religious and philosophical communities is an effective way to organize and mobilize people and transfer resources to where they can quickly provide relief,” McGonigle told the Daily in an email.

The chaplaincy has also implemented plans first discussed in the group’s meetings, including a vigil McGonigle proposed at the very first gathering, according to Oct. 4 meeting minutes.

“Last Friday, we hosted a vigil that responded in part to the hurricanes and other recent tragic events,” McGonigle said. “Our Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha and other partners are preparing a follow up program on November 5.”

For now, Woznica said that Jumbo Hurricane Relief Response will focus on supporting existing student efforts.

“Our plan right now is not to stage any big fundraisers of our own,” she said, “but to take advantage [and support] events that are already happening that people are already going to.”