A few weeks ago, Christina Wairegi, 29, a cinematographer, and Tiffany Armour, 37, a digital imaging technician, were complete strangers. Their only connection was a mutual friend in the film industry who recommended that Tiffany followed Christina on Instagram.
Then, when the killing of George Floyd sparked worldwide protests, Tiffany saw that Christina was asking her friends over Instagram Stories to chip in so she could buy supplies for protesters. Tiffany DMed Christina to donate $100 — and to offer up her van to help move water, snacks, and PPE to protest sites. Neither were working with organizers or specific organizations, but were looking for ways they could help out.
The Brooklyn-based pair quickly became inseparable, texting every morning to find out where protests would happen, then going to grocery stores to fill Tiffany’s van with supplies. Every night, Christina would keep a detailed spreadsheet of the money coming in via Venmo and Cash App — and tracked receipts on what they were spending. After nine days, the pair raised $12,712.53 for supplies, and donated the $4,800 left over to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. (A friend’s company then tripled the donation.) Here’s how Christina and Tiffany became fast friends — and how they used the power of social media to fundraise a lot of cash during the current protests.
Christina: We met in person for the first time at a grocery store, and it was the second morning I started buying supplies. Tiffany just volunteered; I hadn’t even asked anyone to help! I was overjoyed because having another person and a van would mean we could get more supplies out to people. We just dove right in. And then it just became Tiffany and I strategizing for like 10 hours every day.
Tiffany: What was so great about Christina is every night she did accounting. She recorded every receipt, so you could track your dollars. We wanted to be very honest and fair.
Christina: It was kind of like almost an accident, how much money we raised. It started when I was talking with my friend, Rachel, and we’d been at the memorial for George Floyd. No one could really shake this feeling of wanting to do more. And so Rachel and I started talking about buying some waters and handing them out.
We came up with the idea because in 2014, I was protesting Eric Garner’s death, and I was really emotional while I was leading chants. A really lovely person I’d never met before just happened to have extra waters. He gave me one, and it was like lifesaving. It’s a really small aspect that can have a really powerful impact. That was over six years ago, and I haven’t forgotten it.
Tiffany: Especially in times like this, a lot of us are out of work. A lot of us are upset with the system. A lot of us are out there protesting, and some of us don’t have money for food while we’re out there. It’s true. The energy Christina has is incredible, so it’s hard not to follow her lead.
Christina: I joked with Tiffany that I’ve never had so many white people hand me money! I felt so responsible [for it]. I also never dreamed that we would get as much money as we did. We thought we’d get 60 bucks or something. On the first day alone, we raised $3,140.
Tiffany: Social media was a big part of it because it has the power to get your message to a lot of people. Whenever we would do anything, like shop or set up at a location, I would tell Christina, “Let’s post this!” And after showing people what we were doing, they wanted to give the money — I didn’t even have to ask.
Also, when you donate money to places, there’s often not a lot of transparency. You hope the money is used for good, but maybe because ours was so social media-centric, we could show like upload pictures of us shopping and the cars full of things we bought. Our spreadsheet was getting live updates, and there’s photos of all the receipts. We just wanted to be accountable.
Christina: A lot of people are out of work, especially a lot of our friends because we’re all artists, but it’s nice that people can give $1, $5, or $10. I made it super clear from the beginning that $1 buys one person a bottle of water. So maybe you think it’s not a lot, but if you can give three bucks, you help three people. And the math actually ended up being that $1 buys six bottles of water because water is that cheap. The one thing I really never expected was that at the protests, people were just handing us twenties left and right.
Tiffany: Our main concern was getting supplies to the protesters while trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus and making sure everyone felt they had a place to go if they needed Gatorade or any kind of medical supplies.
Christina: There were others [handing out supplies], many with just what they could carry in backpacks. The first day we walked several miles with protesters and marched. As the operation got bigger, we started setting up at the speeches and we would flood the road at the start, making a line basically of people handing out supplies into the crowd to get to as many people as we could. We were in different locations each day. We did 16 marches in 10 days in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. I was protesting in the crowds before we were handing out supplies, but rededicated myself to doing the work of support once all the money came in.
We had adults coming up to us crying that we were offering them free water and Cheez-Its. Others were like, “What organization are you guys?” And we finally got to a place where we just started saying, “We’re just friends!”
Every step of the way there were incredible surprises that were so humbling. We got so close with the employees of the Pathmark on Albany Avenue that they would send us to the front of the line and tell all the shoppers that we were essential workers buying things to give away. And at the Super Foodtown on Fulton street, the manager got us free waters and free bags of ice multiple times. The employees even helped pack the cars with us.
Tiffany: It’s inspiring. Since doing this, I do want to volunteer more, especially in the film industry. I want to go into communities where schools aren’t funded well and do a little film program. I want to help out.
Christina: First of all, I’ll work with Tiffany on anything. I love her. I miss her. While we were doing it, we would text each other first thing in the morning: “What time are we meeting?” “We got to get there to get XYZ.” “We ran out of Oreos too early yesterday.” We always have strategies. We’d have to wait till late in the night when organizers posted where the marches would be and we’d make sure we got out on social and coordinated all the volunteers we could get. We were in communication basically all day every day for, for eight or nine days.
Tiffany: I’ll work with Christina anytime! We are so in sync. There were times we didn’t even need to talk to each other. We knew exactly what needed to be done.
Christina: Funny enough, on our last day we were wrapping up and by then a lot of people had been working with us for like over a week. When I said that I met Tiffany on Day 2, people were shocked. They really thought we’d known each other for years!
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