Amid UR’s response to COVID-19, many students were left scrambling to find new sources of food, shelter, and educational tools as UR’s campus was evacuated.
There are several resources for students still in Rochester, like the Food Pantry, and Safe Ride’s expanded trip to Collegetown. But for those facing difficulties anywhere in the world, one of the main and best resources available is the Basic Needs Hub.
The Basic Needs Hub itself has existed for about a year, but the idea behind it has been around for longer.
“For longer than I’ve been here — and that’s been more than 18 years — there has been an emergency fund account that exists,” Dean of Students Matthew Burns said. “A small amount of money to help students out, mostly for textbooks. Sometimes for emergency travel — if somebody in your immediate family dies, for instance, and you can’t afford to get home for the funeral because you had spent that money on a ticket to get home at the end of the year.”
These funds were spread out through several departments, like the Kearns Center, and the Office of the Dean of Students, each of whom had their own set of donors. But as more students requested access to these funds it became apparent to many in administration that there was a need to change the process.
The first iteration of the Basic Needs Hub, before COVID-19, was created to fill this gap. It centralized the funds into one pool, provided a vetting process, and allowed students an easier format to request access to resources.
Since COVID-19 has put so many students into extenuating circumstances, the Hub has drastically changed how it operates. One change is that it’s now open to all UR students, as opposed to only undergraduates in the college of Arts, Science, and Engineering.
But the biggest change to the Hub has been how UR is able to allocate the funds. It now acts as a national crisis response fund, instead of an individual emergency fund. Under normal circumstances, it’s impossible to, say, hand $300 to a student to allow them to pay for rent, due to bureaucratic constraints, Burns explained.
“There are ways that we can use these funds that we normally can’t,” Burns said. “Because the whole country is in an emergency, that has freed up the use of our funds.”
As of April 17, the Hub has processed 117 requests from students affected by COVID-19. Many were approved, but the exact approval numbers are a gray area. Some requests were officially denied, but that might be because the needs were met through other funds. Some requests, such as students asking for help with housing for the summer, might get approved in the future, and are waiting on additional information.
Burns said the Hub is approaching $15,000 in expenses, and he expects to spend “a lot more before this is all over.”
Students asking for funds can expect to receive anywhere from $100 to $300, but those numbers are not hard limits.
Burns said that sometimes students request more money than necessary, and sometimes they need more than they’ve asked for. He cited a new laptop, for example, which costs more than 300 dollars.
The money comes from two donation pools: one for undergraduates (which is the fund that existed before the COVID-19 crisis) and one for graduate students (which was a response fund recently generated through donations).
In the name of privacy and respect for the donors’ wishes, Burns kept the donors and their often sizable donations anonymous. But he emphasized how all members of the community have stepped up, from parents to alumni, to even undergraduates donating $50 or $100 to the fund.
“It’s been astounding how many people have risen to the task,” Burns said. “There are people without jobs, whose incomes are cut […] for people to have risen to the task and to the call to donate actual money, and trust that that’s going to be well spent […] that’s a lot of trust in our community. It’s one of the more heartwarming stories to come out of this whole thing.”
If you’d like to help out, you can donate to the emergency funds here.