Courtesy of Winnie Ho '19

Winnie Ho '19, Sahithi Kalvakota '20 and Rose Ippolito '20 raise money for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, an advocacy and legal services provider, outside of Schwartz Center.

July 8, 2018

Students Exceed Fundraising Goal to ‘Keep Families Together’ Despite Theft

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While thousands protested to ‘Keep Families Together’ in response to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy, the efforts of six Cornell students were compromised by a thief who snatched about $360 from their fundraising table outside of the Schwartz Center on Saturday, June 30.

Despite the limited resources and smaller student population on campus in the summer, the students scrambled to organize a fundraiser just one weekend before it began on June 25. When the cash and coins were taken with no time for volunteers to react, “it was a tough blow because everyone involved in this event had put in a lot of time fundraising and everyone who donated and volunteered showed so much generosity and kindness,” said Rose Ippolito ’20.

The fundraiser’s organizers — Winnie Ho ’19, Tarannum Sahar ’20, Ippolito, Lizzie Lee ’19, Jaylexia Clark ’19, and Anuush Vejalla ’20 — initially aimed to raise $200, a goal they continued to raise as passersby were eager to help the group fund the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, an advocacy and legal services provider to families detained and separated in South Texas.

Volunteers assembled their fundraiser at the bus stop: a cash box on a table, a poster, and a bag of candy. Five days later in the same spot, Ho said she “shamelessly and helplessly cried,” in a Facebook post on Monday.

“We really didn’t want all of that to not get to the immigrants we set out to support,” Sahar said.

Following the theft, they doubted whether they would even reach their $500 goal for Sunday, but through shared social media posts, they were met with an “incredible” response, Sahar explained.

Ho’s Venmo account balance grew every few minutes when news of the theft began to circulate through Facebook. The group surpassed their initial goal when the final donation was made on July 1 and closed their fundraiser with a total $1,120 in donations “from friends, strangers, and supporters all across campus, country, and even some donations coming from our peers abroad,” she said.

Though the thief has yet to be identified, according to Ho, the group emerged from the incident with a renewed sense of community and looks at the fundraiser as a success.

“This fundraiser was not only about raising money and awareness, but also as a process of healing,” Ho said. “I personally choose to remember this past week as not a fundraiser that befell a tragedy, but a fundraiser whose supporters rallied to raise it up to heights we had never before dreamed of achieving.”

In the road ahead in the U.S.’s immigration reform, the organizers see a pressing need for furthering efforts to aid families at the border, Ippolito said, and drew attention to “voting, calling representatives and supporting non-profits like RAICES” as ways to continue advocating for families who “still face tremendous financial, logistic and legal obstacles to being reunited.”