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Amid coronavirus upheaval, community support swells

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Students and campus organizations have mobilized in large numbers to provide food, housing and financial support to those unexpectedly displaced by Stanford’s Friday announcement further limiting the number of students permitted to stay on campus due to the worsening coronavirus situation in Santa Clara County.

Groups of students, organizing informally and as part of existing Stanford communities, have started numerous campaigns to raise funds and source donations or offers of assistance from community members. Various communities have used their Stanford-allocated group funds to purchase necessities and offer financial support.

On Friday, residents of Columbae used house funds to establish the “COVID-19 Stanford Support Fund” and began soliciting additional donations through Venmo. Funds are being distributed in no-questions-asked payments of $50, $100 or more via an online request form.

“It began with us just wanting to use the rest of our house discretionary funds and asking people to add to it, and that gained a lot of momentum really quick,” said Nani Friedman ’20, the financial manager at Columbae. “I think people are feeling so much anxiety around this, [and] because we were the first fund like this to pop up I think people really jumped into it.”

As of Monday evening, the COVID-19 Stanford Support Fund has raised and distributed more than $35,000 through 564 donations. The group also started a Gofundme page intended to sustain fundraising and financial support for students into the spring quarter.

“The reality of it is that a lot of people are going to be insecure for many weeks and months due to this situation,” Friedman said. “And so I think we’re seeing the Venmo as a short term solution, and the GoFundMe might be able to help people for longer.”

Other student residences have begun informal collection drives as well. The Cardenal house in Florence Moore Hall is currently offering nonperishable food to students and custodial staff in need.

“We noticed that even though some people were going home, they were going home to food-insecure homes,” said Keoni Rodriguez ’21, a resident assistant in Cardenal. “We figured that there was an abundance of dorm funding as well as meal plan dollars from people that had departed campus, and the best way to redistribute those was to get as many nonperishable foods using those funds as we could.”

Organizers are also sourcing and distributing resources through a campus-wide “Stanford Community Offering/Resources” spreadsheet, which lists offers of housing, transportation, storage and food from students, alumni and other community members. 

“My partner just graduated from UChicago, and they had a spreadsheet like after their response, and I thought, wait, we don’t have something like this yet,” said Will Shan ’22, one of the spreadsheet’s organizers. “I made a copy of it, edited it and sent it out to the mailing lists and communities that I was a part of … people just started sharing it. There’s been a huge outpouring of support, at first through Stanford students, and then alumni got in contact with me about how they could help, and also staff and lecturers and community members.”

As of Tuesday morning, the spreadsheet has accumulated over 800 offers of various forms of assistance. 

“I have been so touched by the community coming together,” Shan said. “There are church lists who have picked this up, there are individual staff in different departments across the school … there was even somebody who owns an Indian restaurant and was like, ‘You come here and show us your student ID, you can have free meals anytime.’”

On Saturday, the Undergraduate Senate passed a bill allocating up to $30,000 of emergency funding to support students in obtaining food, storage and transportation. Students can apply for funding via a needs assessment form.

Tim Vrakas ’21, chair of the Senate’s appropriations committee and author of the bill, said the bill was motivated by the efforts of student groups.

“A number of student organizations reached out to us and wanted to spend the money we had given them for the [spring] quarter … they wanted to redirect that money into helping with different things,” Vrakas said. “That wasn’t really an option because of the way [our] accountants handle reimbursements … in order to be compliant with nonprofit laws in California. It was easier to just set aside a new pool of money for that specific purpose, so we authorized $10,000 upfront, and we can increase that to $30,000.”

That pool of money, the “ASSU Support Fund,” was increased automatically to $30,000 after requests exceeded $10,000, according to Senator Micheal Brown ’22.

“We currently have 250+ requests who get anywhere from $75 to $175 in goods and services on their first request,” Brown wrote in a text message to The Daily.

The Senate passed another bill on Tuesday, authored by Brown, allowing voluntary student organizations (VSOs) “to allocate any amount of their leftover funds from Quick and Standard grants from Fall 2019 and Winter 2020, Annual Grants reserves, and 2800 accounts for the purposes of funding emergency relief activities on Stanford’s campus.”

“After we established the ASSU Support Fund … a number of groups reached out to see how they might be able to donate their resources to the fund,” Brown told The Daily. “We’re passing this bill to allow these groups to reallocate their funds to our general support fund, and we’re also extending the fund to support students throughout the crises, beyond this week, with resources as new student needs arise.”

Money donated by VSOs is to be distributed by the ASSU Support Fund “once the $30,000 from ASSU Exec and UGS [Undergraduate Senate] reserves have been exhausted,” according to the bill.

“Unused monies from the fall and winter quarter or Annual Grant reserves would be returned to the undergraduate funding reserves or their annual grant reserves,” the bill reads. “Unused monies from 2800 accounts will be returned to the group.”

Stanford’s First-Generation Low-Income Partnership is organizing emergency housing support for students unable to stay on campus or return home. Community members have also created a website collating channels for Stanford alumni to donate and offer assistance to vulnerable students.

The mobilization on campus intensified after the University’s Friday announcement limiting the number of undergraduates permitted to remain on campus through spring break and spring quarter. University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne had previously stated on Wednesday that students were “welcome” to remain on campus if “they feel they need to remain here through the spring break and the spring quarter,” but that was before Santa Clara County announced an increase in restrictions on large gatherings on Friday, leading Stanford to revise its policy.

Vrakas said the informal nature of many of Stanford’s community-driven support drives made their efforts more effective at quickly distributing support than the University’s official channels of financial aid.

“Setting up a program to determine who needs what in an organized way and give them the money is difficult, and the Financial Aid Office is set up for very specific things … they have restrictions on who they can give money to and what circumstances they can be under,” Vrakas said. “The Columbae fund, it’s like a Venmo with no rules, it means that they [do] not have to worry about all the details nearly as much.”

The Financial Aid Office is offering assistance in purchasing flights for students currently receiving financial aid. Students staying off campus will have their aid packages reduced to reflect the removal of housing charges for spring quarter, but students who have living expenses supported as part of their aid packages can receive support for food and off-campus rent, Financial Aid Director Karen Cooper told students in a Zoom call on Thursday.

Moving forward, Shan said many campus organizers are working to consolidate their various campaigns and resources onto a single website.

“We know that there are a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of FAQs being sent out right now,” he said. “We’re trying to consolidate all that on a website … when we have that ready, we can send people to a more updated resource that will probably suit more people’s needs, and people will have less links to have to manage for themselves.”

Shan said further donations are necessary, as the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for unpermitted students to leave campus looms. According to a statement from the COVID-19 Stanford Support Fund posted to social media on Monday evening, the group is looking to raise $15,000 before Wednesday to support over 150 additional students who have yet to be assisted.

Organizers of the different relief efforts say they have found encouragement in the strong response from the Stanford community thus far. Undergraduate Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22 told The Daily that the organizers have begun coordinating efforts together on Slack as well.

“In this time of shittiness and uncertainty, it’s really affirming to have a sense of community support and solidarity,” Shan said. “I feel immense gratitude.”

“It’s been really positive,” Friedman said. “But the need is so great that we’re barely scratching the surface.”

Resources listed in the article:

Stanford Student Support Site

COVID-19 Stanford Student Support Fund (Request form, Gofundme): Donations can be made by Venmo to @NaniFriedman and by PayPal to [email protected].

VSOs are now allowed to donate parts of their reserves, leftover funds, and 2800 accounts to the ASSU Support Fund. The Undergraduate Senate has seen an increase in demand for resources and asks any VSO interested in donating funds to email Senator Micheal Brown ’22 at [email protected].

Stanford Community Offering/Resources spreadsheet

ASSU support application form

FLIP emergency housing form

Stanford Alumni Student Support Site

This article was updated on 3/20/20 to include links to the consolidated Stanford Student Support Site, which is now live.

Contact Daniel Wu at dwu21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Daniel Wu '21 is a Desk Editor for News, and also contributes to Sports, Arts & Life and The Daily's Graphics team. A History major from Beijing, Shanghai and London, he has also written for Time Out Shanghai and the Stanford Magazine. Contact him at dwu21 'at' stanford.edu.