Spotlight on Philanthropy
UMB graduates who weathered the pandemic celebrated at virtual and in-person events in May. (Photo by Matthew D'Agostino)
UMB graduates who weathered the pandemic celebrated at virtual and in-person events in May. (Photo by Matthew D'Agostino)

UMB’s Student Emergency Funds Provide Support Amid Global Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a renewed push to support students through philanthropic funds as they continue to face unexpected emergencies and deal with the challenges they pose to their degree completion.

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), the Office of Philanthropy’s Annual Giving team remains busy as it continues to retool the University’s Student Emergency Fund in anticipation of a post-pandemic future in which many of the crises facing students — from sudden job or housing loss, to food insecurity, emergency bill assistance, and beyond — will continue to occur in some students’ lives.

“When COVID-19 hit, things really fell apart for a lot of students,” Stephanie Weber, MSW ’20, said in a recorded thank-you to donors at UMB’s 2020 Founders Week Gala. “In my situation, I lost my job and had no communication with the unemployment office, so by getting emergency funds from UMB, I was able to make sure I had food and I had rent covered. I was able to complete my degree, and that was the biggest accomplishment of my life.”

Before the pandemic, plans also were underway toward founding a food pantry at UMB for students facing food insecurity. With the creation of the Student Emergency Fund and an additional Student Food Insecurity Fund, UMB will be able to pursue a holistic approach toward helping students with emergency needs. The Student Food Pantry is set to open in the fall 2021 semester and will be open to all students in need. Some pop-up events have already been held to deliver food to students who need it.

As the pandemic eases and students come back to campus in the fall, the Student Emergency Funds across the University are actively seeking additional contributions to enhance the institutional support of students for years to come.

Created early in the pandemic as part of the University’s emergency response, the Student Emergency Fund is now part of UMB’s annual solicitations to donors. After noticing an uptick in new gifts earmarked for the fund and that many of UMB’s existing annual donors were inspired during the pandemic to contribute a second gift as a result of their existing philanthropic relationship with the University, the Office of Philanthropy quickly mobilized to partner with UMB’s schools to systematize the fund to support their students’ particular needs.

“What this showed us was that donors find it important for their gifts to make an immediate and tangible impact,” says Lisa Vuolo, director of annual giving in the Office of Philanthropy. “Highlighting ways to connect donors’ values to the urgent needs of our students and our University is an important inroad to forging new relationships built on trust and sound stewardship in times of need.”

The Student Emergency Fund connects students with documented, unmet needs to an application process administered by their school as well as a general application process for the University’s overarching fund. As students can draw upon emergency funds from their school and funds available through the greater University community, the role of private philanthropy is integral to shoring up support before acute challenges emerge.

“The pandemic has taught us the importance of having an infrastructure in place to support students facing a crisis,” says Isabelle Garcia, annual giving officer for the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “Pandemic or no pandemic, unforeseen emergencies — whether an accident, a health emergency, a death in the family, etc. — will continue to affect people, including our students. The support of our alumni, donors, and friends is absolutely critical in providing a helping hand for students during their moment of crisis.”

To contribute to the Student Emergency Fund for a specific school, or to support the University’s overarching emergency fund for students, you can learn more here.

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Brandon Desiderio

Brandon Desiderio is a writer and editor in the Office of Philanthropy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.