As UW-Eau Claire made the decision to move online for the remainder of the semester and stay-at-home orders were issued across the country, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation began looking for a way to help students who are experiencing financial hardship.
Before spring break, the foundation’s staff got together and began working on its first solicitation for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. At the time of publishing, this fund had already raised over $120,000.
Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, said in their initial appeal for donations the foundation posted on social media and sent out emails to tens-of-thousands of alumni.
“In the first week we raised almost $25,000,” Way said. “We employ a number of students in the office and for our telefund, so we tried to keep as many students who wanted to work employed as possible.”
At first, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s fund was the main support system for students in need due to COVID-19. Applications were reviewed by the Office of the Dean of Students. Then, the COVID-19 Federal Relief Package of $3.5 million became available and was able to take on the bulk of financial assistance needs.
“Just as we were coming to the end of our money is when COVID CARES came out,” Way said. “The university is now providing the bulk of assistance. This leaves us with a small pool of money for other students in need and international students.”
Greta Zwicker, a fourth-year operations and supply chain management student, was one of the students to receive funds from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. Throughout college she’d worked as a restaurant manager, but once restaurants began to shut down, she said she no longer had a source of income.
“I heard about the fund online from a friend and that they had done it,” Zwicker said. “It was a funny story — when I applied, my picture from working freshman orientation was actually used for the COVID page. At first, I had no idea how much to ask for or what was reasonable. I applied and I asked for rent for the month of May.”
Her request was approved, which Zwicker said helped her to avoid digging into her savings account while she was waiting for her first unemployment check to arrive.
After receiving the money, Zwicker said she posted on her social media about the fund. After posting on her snapchat and the Class of 2020 Facebook page, she received many messages asking how to apply. She also made a public statement of her thanks to those who donated.
“Just the fact that I know many people who donated are alums,” Zwicker said. “I’m thankful they keep the school in mind. I know at this time money is tight for everyone — I’ve heard now might even be considered a recession. The fact that they’re still willing to donate money to the fund says a lot about them.”
Connor Miller, a third-year marketing student, said he and his friends also applied for the fund. He received money to help pay off his rent and be able to eat. During the school year Miller typically works in photography for the university.
“I don’t think people understand how much the fund helps out people,” Miller said. “Everyone’s from different walks of life. That little bit of money helped me and my buddies be able to afford to keep on with our studies.”
After reviewing student applications and their notes and videos of thanks, which have been sent to all those who have donated, Way said she is impressed with students and how they’re dealing with the pandemic.
“I’m amazed at students and what they’re doing to get through school,” Way said. “Many students had been working several jobs and had carefully budgeted, and the coronavirus was something entirely unexpected. Most of the money we gave out was four to $600. Paying last month’s rent, computers, WiFi. Basic things. It’s really humbling to see students try to finish up and be successful.”
To receive financial assistance students can apply to the UWEC CARES emergency fund here.
Kopke can be reached at [email protected]