Activists in the Rio Grande Valley, hardest hit area in Texas, start mutual aid effort for Hurricane Hanna relief

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Volunteer organizers and community members from the Rio Grande Valley have stepped up to fill in for state inaction by creating a mutual aid collective to provide financial assistance to offset damage from Hurricane Hanna. They are doing so in the face of surging COVID-19 cases and a hurricane that has wreaked havoc in the region. Mutual aid is the sharing of resources, services, and supplies within a community — people helping people. 

“This fund was started because people across the RGV desperately need aid and they need it immediately — we couldn’t wait around for our state government anymore,” said Natalie Marquez, a volunteer organizer for RGV Mutual Aid and an activist from Harlingen. “We are already one of the deadliest hotspots for COVID-19 in Texas, and our resources for that have been sparse due to [Gov.] Abbott’s negligence for this entire region.”

Last week, Hurricane Hanna, the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas since Hurricane Harvey in 2017, hit and hammered South Texas.

Before the hurricane made landfall, a reporter on Good Morning America called the Rio Grande Valley a “good spot” for the hurricane’s trajectory — a clear example of how the Valley’s neglect is manifest on both the state and national stage.

The Rio Grande Valley was battered by severe property damage — from caved roofs to broken windows to damaged cars, sustained winds, flooding, and electricity outages. Nearly 200,000 Valley residents lost power. Local officials scrambled to open emergency temporary shelters. 

In just three days, RGV Mutual Aid has raised more than $25,000, and dispensed more than $10,000 of funds to 37 families affected by Hurricane Hanna. 

However, in those three days, RGV Mutual Aid has also received more than 500 requests for financial assistance, signaling a dire need for hundreds in the community. To keep up with community demand, the group is asking for additional volunteers in the community for help.

RGV Mutual Aid, founded by Victoria Guerrero from Brownsville, is run by a small group of volunteers who have been soliciting donations on social media to subsequently direct toward community members and families needing help. As RGV Mutual Aid receives requests for financial assistance from those in need, organizers will follow up with requesters to better understand what they are experiencing and discuss how RGV Mutual Aid can best assist a family or individual. The collective will then make a determination on how much assistance to send each family or individual who is requesting, and send donations directly to those impacted by Hurricane Hanna.

While anyone in the Valley is eligible for assistance, RGV Mutual Aid is prioritizing the most marginalized communities: undocumented residents who are legally locked out of FEMA cash assistance and may fear filling out government forms because on immigration status; those living in colonias — low-income border communities vulnerable to flooding from lack basic public service infrastructure such as potable water, electricity, waste management, and drainage systems; and those experiencing emergency needs. These urgent needs can include severe property damage, food insecurity, and lack of electricity to keep medication that needs to be refrigerated, like insulin.

Home to more than 1.3 million Texans, more than 90 percent Latinx, the Rio Grande Valley stretches more than 120 miles across the U.S.-Mexico border, from Brownsville to McAllen to Zapata. Rich in vibrant culture and community, many of its residents live in multigenerational households that carry deep and proud Mexican heritage. 

However, the residents of the Rio Grande Valley — perhaps more than any other region of Texas — have been abandoned, neglected, and failed for decades by the state of Texas.

The Rio Grande Valley faces the highest rates of poverty and chronic illness in Texas, and some of the highest in the nation. Nearly 40 percent of some border residents live in poverty, and around 30 percent of the region is uninsured, the highest percentage in the state. It is a striking failure of state leadership to not prioritize and invest in the predominantly Latinx region. 

Deaths in the Rio Grande Valley have surged in recent weeks. Every hospital is filled to capacity. Patients are waiting for beds. Ambulances wait outside emergency rooms for beds to become available. Healthcare staff and essential workers are worked to their core. Mortuaries and funeral homes have set up refrigerated trucks as temporary morgues. The Valley most likely has the worst rate of hospitalization in the entire country.

With pulsing COVID-19 outbreaks and recent hurricane damage, many of its residents are now in urgent need of a lifeline.

“[RGV Mutual Aid is] here to make sure that regardless of citizenship status, that everyone is able to collect [the] aid that they need in order to get through these times,” said Marquez. “Our next step is to continue raising funds so that we can fulfill the 500 applications we received. We also want to be able to give our community local resources to shelters, FEMA, and food banks.”

Donate to RGV Mutual Aid and volunteer for RGV Mutual Aid.

Photo: RGV Mutual Aid

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