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Go Fund Yourself: How Crowdfunding is Now America’s Safety Net

For as long as she can remember, Annie Hanshew, 36, has wanted to change things in her little hometown of to Helena in Montana – she also ran for the board in the local school, with the aim of bettering education for the kids. But the final straw came when a collection agency planned to force families to pay up $100,000, as they had not paid for their ward’s school meals. She knew that this move would burden low-income families, and it was shocking to learn that the school authorities did not even monitor which of their students were entitled to free or reduced-cost meals, so people would unfairly be charged. In a time before the Internet, one would probably complain to the respective authorities and expect some action. But the growing distrust and inefficiently of establishments drove Hanshew to approach an uncommon ally: GoFundMe.

Out of the $100,000 asked by Hanshew, the campaign has already generated $4,640 as of this writing and funds keep trickling in. Why this particular crowdfunding platform? Because similar schools in Fargo and Seattle has been helped by concerned citizens who that children would not be ‘lunch shamed’ for not being able to pay for their meals. In fact, this particular platform, since it’s inceptions have helped support many K-12 teachers, and by their own accounts, have raised about $33.8 million for basic school material.

Why have we arrived at this state?

It is a shame that we have to reply on crowdfunding companies to pay for basic necessities which should be a given. The basic question arises that even through all the citizens pay their taxes, why are lunches not being provided to children from low income families. The reason is that crowdfunding websites have now become the first line of defense against all that is wrong with our society and us. We are looking for solutions for public problems. The dystopian world of hunger games may just be around the corner with the wealthy living comfortable lives, leaving the rest wallowing in their miseries.

Why is this trend so frightening?

For starters, it may just demonstrate our country’s failings. Why cannot children have basic school supplies? There have also been past calls for funds to help with shortfalls and debts relating to healthcare and even to pool in funds for compensating the family of gun violence victims. One page called for the aid of one Matt, who had been shot and went into surgery to remove a part of his lung, but his family didn’t have enough to fund his treatment and care. Healthcare, which is a basic need that any country should provide for is universal in many countries much poorer than the US.

Some ‘emergencies’ raise eyebrows

Requests for funds to get IVF treatment are usually unabashedly plaintive. There is usually a sob story involved and they go into minute details about their heath issues, in their desperation. The sob story party is even mentioned in the GoFundMe ‘writing tips’ for a successful campaign, asking prospective fund raisers to outline their cause in such a way that is it engaging.

This is not to take away from the fact that crowdfunding websites do offer any inspiration. There are good Samaritans like Hanshew would could not stand and watch money being taken away from poor families and teachers who would have pitched in like they always do, even with their meagre salaries. Come to think of it, there must be an entire generation of parents who are under attack constantly – haunted by debt, exhausted from working overtime or extra jobs, deserted by the existing structure and unable to afford most things for their kids.

Reading between the lines

The campaigns, which are lucky enough to taste success, given that there are too many similar campaigns already ongoing, point to one major trend. Growing societal prejudices and gaps. In an ideal situation and just world, all children would be fed by their school cafeterias, or all children would have access to school supplies. What happened with Hanshew and the school in Montana is not an isolated incident and one of many.

Thankfully, due to the push back by many parents, public schools in Helena decided to partially forgive the meal debt of those families which have some eligibility for free lunches. This may be a small victory, but the students of working class families were still at risk as they not be labeled ‘eligible’, Maybe the fight starts small, but there is hope.

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