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Rice Mutual-Aid distributes thousands to undergraduates during polar vortex

Brandon Chen/Thresher

By Isaiah Hwang     3/6/21 4:40pm

Rice Mutual Aid, a community-funded and student-led organization, redistributed thousands of dollars to Rice and Houston community members in need due to the recent winter storm. Two weeks ago, Texas experienced a historical polar vortex that resulted in power outages affecting millions of homes across the state. The impact upon the Rice community resulted in classes and campus operations being ceased for a week.

Neha Tallapragada, co-founder of Rice Mutual Aid, said that over the past two weeks, RMA received Venmo requests for needs ranging from medical to transportation as a result of the polar vortex. 

“Paying for transportation, paying for things like burst pipes or house repairs, trying to figure out ways to get food, these are all things that people have requested from us,” Tallapragada, a sophomore at Jones College, said. “We do get these types of requests very frequently but I think in this case they’re very specific to the circumstances created by the storm. I would say that we’re very fortunate to receive the support from the Rice community that we have in terms of donations because without the overwhelming support that we received during the week of the storm we would not be able to meet 100% of our requests as we have been able to do this and last week.”

Tallapragada said that the inspiration behind the organization was sourced from a desire to support undergraduate students through exacerbated situations caused by COVID-19. 

"Mutual aid as an idea and as a network, the concepts surrounding that [are] interconnectedness and community solidarity, rejecting asymmetrical power dynamics that often align with things like charity and well-meaning but ineffective philanthropy,” Tallapragada said. “[RMA is concerned with] making sure we’re able to address the material needs of students on campus as well as start a dialogue about privilege and financial stigma at Rice.”

Although Rice Mutual Aid is focused on helping members of the community, they are not directly funded or affiliated with the Rice administration, according to Tallapragada and Lily Sethre-Brink, fellow co-founder of Rice Mutual Aid. They said instead, the funds generally come from community members, including Rice students.

“I think it’s a really powerful form of solidarity and again emphasizing solidarity not charity, because it's recognizing that the polar vortex has affected people a lot differently and often [for] certain members of the community it's been much more severe, especially those in the Rice community that are low income,” Sethre-Brink, a sophomore at Baker College, said.

Tallapragada and Sethre-Brink said they plan on utilizing the remaining funds to continue giving back to Rice’s community when in need.

[This story was correct at 4:40 p.m. 3/6/21 to more accurately reflect the interview. The headline was updated to more accurately reflect the mutual aid process.]

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