UT-Austin student donates painting proceeds to COVID-19 relief funds

Kate Williams

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

In a time of social distancing, Gabrielle Wongso finds a way to touch the lives of her peers through painting. 

What started as a hobby to pass time in self-isolation turned into a project to support those in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The radio-television-film and journalism junior started A Painting for ATX, a nonprofit where she sells personalized paintings and donates all the funds to emergency resources in Austin. 

Wongso said she got the idea for the project while staying in her apartment over spring break. She was looking for ways to help others without going outside and found that many local funds needed donations.

As extra canvases sat unused in her apartment, she said she was inspired to sell paintings so she could donate the proceeds. 

Wongso posted about the project on her Instagram, where followers can click on a link in her bio to order a painting of their favorite food.

“It’s like an homage to Austin,” Wongso said. “Everybody knows what’s their favorite restaurant when they’re in Austin.” 

The paintings are $18 each, with about $8 going toward production and shipping fees. Wongso is dividing the proceeds among a few different local causes, including Foundation Communities’ Emergency Assistance Fund, AISD Crisis Support Fund and the UT Student Emergency Fund.

“I really want to focus on students and low-income families,” Wongso said. “Mostly, I want to help students who lost their jobs because of COVID-19.”

Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said that donations are essential to the Student Emergency Fund. She said there has been a significant increase in applications because of the crisis.

“Donations are always incredibly important because it makes the fund possible, but now it’s so important because we are trying to meet bigger needs,” Kennedy said. “In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were a total of 315 applications for the whole year. On Tuesday of this week, there were 111 applications.” 

The donations to the Student Emergency Fund go directly to students facing financial hardship, offering assistance with rent and access to reliable internet connection. 

Laila Aziz, a mathematics freshman, said she thinks the project is a good way to help other students during this emergency situation. She ordered a painting of gelato from Wongso to support the cause. 

“I think that it will not only bring us all together after all of this, but it will also help students in need and help the pandemic become a little bit less of an issue for those people,” Aziz said.

Before shipping orders, Wongso takes health precautions by wearing a mask and gloves while creating the paintings and following all CDC guidelines on shipping and handling, like disinfecting the boxes the paintings are sent in. 

So far, she has sold 10 paintings and has a goal of donating a total of $500 across different emergency funds in Austin. 

“Austin has been a home for me and just looking at my favorite restaurants and my favorite local stores pretty much closing down, it’s heartbreaking” Wongso said. “I know it’s not much, but it’s something.”