Like many people around the world, North Carolina fifth grade teacher Julianna Mendelsohn spent Wednesday night incessantly hitting refresh on her Twitter feed to get the latest updates on the events unfolding in Ferguson, Mo.
Scanning the flood of tweets, she felt powerless. She wanted to help, but, being located halfway across the country, didn’t know how to contribute, until she read a news report about how schools in the St. Louis suburb would be closing their doors for the rest of the week due to security concerns.
As a teacher herself, Mendelsohn knew a large portion of kids across the county depend on the free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches served at school, meaning this closure would undoubtedly have a significant effect on the ability of many families in the city to put food on the table.
Mendelsohn logged onto the crowdfunding platform Fundly and created a campaign called Feed the Students of Ferguson to raise money for the St. Louis Food Bank to provide stop-gap measures to fill in for the food support lost by the school closures. She expected that she would raise a few hundred dollars and then she could just write a check to the food bank.
It turns out that Mendelsohn wasn’t the only one who thought the idea of providing food to Ferguson’s kids was a good one. Using the Twitter hashtags #Feedthestudents and #FeedFerguson, the campaign instantly took off, raising over $35,000 from over 1,500 donors in about 12 hours. It was the single most successful fundraising effort on the entire Fundly platform on Thursday.
‟Some people have forgotten that everyone in Ferguson is a human being, it’s not just politics,” she explained. ‟Regardless of what you think about what’s happening, no one can begrudge a meal to a child.”
Earlier this week, 18-year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police. Eyewitnesses on the scene reported that Brown was unarmed and was fleeing with his hands in the air when an officer opened fire. While law enforcement officials present at the scene contest this version of events, the shooting sparked massive protests against the overwhelmingly white police force by members of the predominantly African American community. Police commenced a brutal crackdown, pelting demonstrators with rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas.
Protests against the police’s conduct, along with coordinated series of anti-violence vigils, have been scheduled in cities all across the country for Thursday evening.
Last year, 68 percent of students in the district qualified for either free or reduced-cost school lunches because their family incomes were under the necessary threshold.
Originally, the Fundly campaign was only supposed to last a single day, but its instant success made Mendelsohn rethink the short time span. ‟In conversations I’ve had with people at the food bank, I learned that Ferguson is one of the most food-insecure areas of the country,” she said, explaining that the area is considered a food desert, where places like grocery stores that sell healthy, inexpensive food items are few and far between.
‟Even after school reopens, there’s still going to be a lot of need,” she said.
Mendelsohn will be flying to the St. Louis area on Friday to help distribute food her campaign helped buy over the weekend.
‟I have no words to describe how amazing this has been,” she said. ‟The support this has gotten from people on social media has been incredible.”
Regardless of your politics, we should commit to caring for the innocents left hungry by the school closures in Ferguson. #FeedFerguson— Rachel Hurst (@itsracheljoyce) August 14, 2014
Photo by Lunch i Skolan: Overall/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)