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Monday, April 12, 2021

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UR students fundraise to support people affected by hurricanes Eta, Iota

<p>The gazebo rests in the middle of Westhampton lake on Sep. 6, 2020.</p>

The gazebo rests in the middle of Westhampton lake on Sep. 6, 2020.

Senior Jessie Bonilla, junior Gabriela Lopez Gutierrez and senior Ana Paula Alvarado, created fundraisers to help people affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, two Category 4 storms that hit Central America in early November. 

Eta was the 28th storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. It was also the third-strongest recorded Atlantic Ocean hurricane by wind speed in November.

Hurricane Iota made landfall in Central America less than two weeks after Eta. Winds, rain and storm surges caused by the Category 4 hurricane were seen in Nicaragua, Honduras and other countries that did not have time to recover from the previous storm, according to The Weather Channel.

A total of $745 was raised during Bonilla and Lopez Gutierrez's Venmo fundraiser, which lasted from Nov. 10 to Nov. 14, for people affected by Hurricane Eta, Lopez Gutierrez said. 

Alvarado collected $700 through Venmo and will use the funds to purchase food, medicine and essential supplies to distribute among people affected by the hurricanes in Honduras, she said. Alvarado will also explore ways to donate some of the funds to a local children's hospital at which she has volunteered before, she said.

The funds raised by Bonilla and Lopez Gutierrez were split evenly and donated directly to Operación Frijol, a Honduran non-profit organization, and the American Nicaraguan Foundation, a relief and development organization, Bonilla said.

Operación Frijol joined other Honduran non-profits in Operación Eta to form a collective fundraiser for Hondurans affected by the hurricane, according to the fundraiser's website. Donations raised will fund the purchase of supplies for people who lost most or all of their belongings, as well as support centers that have been set up as shelters for those people, according to the fundraiser's website.

The ANF created a hurricane fund in response to the crisis in the country, according to the foundation's website. The ANF is providing emergency aid with the help of donations to affected communities through the distribution of necessities and medical supplies, rehabilitating contaminated water sources and providing agricultural support to farmers, according to the website.

Alvarado, who is from Honduras, spoke with her parents and friends in Honduras and became aware of the destruction happening in her country, she said. When news of Hurricane Iota broke, Alvarado said she had become worried about how both storms would impact Central America in such a short period of time.

“I saw a lot of the devastation that was happening, and [Honduras] still hadn’t fully recovered and I thought, 'Now there’s another hurricane coming,'" Alvarado said.

Bonilla said she had spoken to Lopez Gutierrez after the hurricane hit Nicaragua and Honduras, their respective home countries.

In Nicaragua and Honduras, roofs were ripped off houses, trees were uprooted, bridges were washed out and roads flooded because of the hurricanes, according to The Weather Channel. 

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Lopez Gutierrez spoke to her friends from Honduras, who are also studying in the United States, after she saw coverage of the hurricane's impact, she said.

"We all had this feeling of, 'What can we do?,'" she said. "We're far from home, we can't really go back and just do something, so we thought starting a fundraiser here could help us, you know, be a part of the help that Honduras needed."

Bonilla said she and Lopez Gutierrez decided to raise awareness about the hurricane and raise funds for their home countries together to help people affected by Eta.

The students worked with the Solidarity Organization for Latinx Students to support their fundraiser, Lopez Gutierrez said. SOLS helped create flyers and content to post on social media, Bonilla said. 

Alvarado created sharable graphics for her fundraiser, including statistics about the hurricanes, to post on social media in order to raise funds and awareness, she said. Alvarado did not want people to feel pressured into donating but said she was grateful for those who shared the posts, donated and sent kind words to her.

"To give context, one U.S. dollar is about 25 Honduran lempiras," Alvarado said. The $700 she collected equates to more than 17,000 lempiras, she said.

Lopez Gutiérrez said most of the funds she received had been from close friends, but she had been surprised by other people who donated because of their own experiences with hurricanes. 

Bonilla said raising awareness about the hurricane had been an important part of the fundraiser. 

"The response was overwhelmingly fantastic," Bonilla said. "Friends and family donated right then and there, and at the end, I felt that we were able to have a really significant impact."

Contact investigative editor Morgan Howland at morgan.howland@richmond.edu.

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