An area nonprofit is working to provide various forms of support to the hundreds of custodial, dining and other support staff working at Texas A&M University that have been, or will be, financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The REACH Project earned a grant, announced Friday, from the Brazos Valley COVID-19 Community Relief Fund for its efforts to aid A&M support staff members, including an ongoing fundraiser called “Feeding the Invisible Aggies.”
The nonprofit is providing campus staff members with redeemable coupons for family meal packs sourced through restaurants in the Brazos Valley.
Max Gerall, co-founder and CEO of the REACH Project, said the fundraiser serves two purposes: feeding campus support staff members and their families, as well as providing support for the local restaurant industry.
“Without that income, people were unsure how they would pay their rent, pay for their food and the medicine they needed — and we knew the REACH Project couldn’t just sit by and do nothing,” Gerall said. “We have an obligation to serve those who serve us.”
Gerall, a recent Aggie graduate, said that as many workers started to be furloughed or laid off, the organization began helping with unemployment filings and worked to connect support staff with a variety of existing resources in the Brazos Valley.
“We wanted to figure out how the REACH Project could have an immediate impact, and we found that child care, access to Internet and putting food on the table were big issues — and we thought we could make a big dent when it came to food,” Gerall said.
“These service providers live paycheck to paycheck and are now being furloughed and laid off in large numbers,” the GoFundMe reads. “Our neighbors will not be able to pay rent, utilities, or cellphones. They will be unable to afford food, OTC medications and basic household supplies over the next several weeks and months. How can we together prevent an emergency from becoming a catastrophe?”
The campaign had raised about $20,000 as of Friday evening, with a goal of raising $50,000.
Texas A&M sophomore safety Leon O’Neal Jr. filmed a video last weekend in support of the REACH Project’s efforts.
““We are entirely grateful for the invisible Aggies. When I say ‘invisible Aggies,’ I mean the custodians, the maintenance people, the people who work in the cafeteria — all these great employees who have been, unfortunately, laid off through this coronavirus process,” O’Neal said.
“I want to reach out to everybody to donate to the REACH Project’s GoFundMe,” he continued. “With help from each one of you, we can raise funds to provide family meal packs for all those invisible Aggies who are in need.”
The REACH Project also has continued its Aggie Spotlight initiative on Facebook. The organization features an A&M support staff worker by sharing a Facebook post that includes a photo, a few facts about the individual and some of that person’s favorite things to do.
Shannon Van Zandt, a member of the REACH Project’s advisory board, said this week that the nonprofit is working to provide meals for campus staff and also to connect those individuals with other means of support.
“I know that this is going to go on for a long time, and the need is going to continue and be there even after this is over,” said Van Zandt, who is the head of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M. “The hope that Max and I have is that we are able to call attention to this population now — and that the interest in them will continue even after the pandemic is over.”