ECU raises nearly $50K to help students affected by coronavirus

In early April, East Carolina University Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson emailed a video to the university community about helping students who are facing displacement, unemployment and other challenges due to the coronavirus.

Since that announcement, Pirates near and far have raised more than $47,050 for student emergency funds.

(ECU) students are our future, and if they need help, we want to help them.
- Alumni Travis and Cassie Burt

“Our university culture is amazing in its ability to rise up to alleviate the negative impacts of this virus on our neediest students. These donations provide them with immediate resources so that they can successfully complete the academic year,” Mitchelson said.

The Student Emergency Fund provides direct support to students. Other groups such as the Students’ Treasure Chest (STC), a student-run philanthropy organization, can also use the funds to help designate aid.

Since March 15, the Students’ Treasure Chest has received 14 requests for COVID-related needs, although the demand is expected to increase significantly, said Lauren Thorn, associate dean of students and one of the STC advisors. Requests have been technology related, as some students lack access to a computer, printer or webcam for their online courses. Others are struggling to pay bills and make rent due to lost wages from unemployment.

Another resource, the Purple Pantry, distributed nearly 2,000 pounds of food in March in response to COVID-19. The group plans to have a mobile Purple Pantry visit off-campus apartments in the next week or so, Thorn said.

For donors who gave to the student emergency funds, Mitchelson’s message spoke to their values of helping others in times of hardship.

Alumna Myra Johnson Powell ’74, ’89 of Wilson said she didn’t hesitate to give. “My heart goes out to the students who may be hurting and away from home. In this unprecedented time, we should all err on the side of doing something good rather than not doing,” she said.

Alumni Travis and Cassie Burt were moved to quickly make a donation as well. Last year, the couple established a professorship in cardiovascular sciences after ECU’s Dr. Mark Williams saved Travis’ life with a triple bypass surgery.

“We know firsthand the amazing work and high-quality resources that ECU provides to the community. Its students are our future, and if they need help, we want to help them,” they said.

Dr. Martha Engelke, who taught graduate and undergraduate students at the College of Nursing for 37 years, gave $1,000 to the Nursing Student Emergency Fund.

“I know that my friends and former colleagues are working hard to help students make it through the semester and on to graduation. As a retiree, I tried to think how I could help,” Engelke said. “I know that most nursing students are not wealthy. Many of them were barely getting by and then COVID-19 happened. If my gift helps a Pirate nurse make it to the finish line, I will be happy and it will be the best money I have spent in a long time.”

Sara-Morgan Woods is in her third year in the doctor of audiology program. This summer she begins her externship, which is similar to a medical residency. (Contributed photo)

Facing two rents and a lost job, ECU student finds help from emergency funds

Audiology student Sara-Morgan Woods was excited to start a year of clinical work in Birmingham, Alabama, in June, seeing patients and gaining valuable experience for her East Carolina University doctoral program. She had undergone a vigorous interview process, found an apartment, and was ready to move in at the beginning of May. Instead, she became part of the 38% of college students who have lost internships or post-graduate work because of the coronavirus.

With her externship delayed until July, Woods, a Greenville native and former ECU swimmer, found herself with two rents to pay in addition to a lost part-time job.

“The delay put me in a bad financial position as the stipend from my externship was supposed to pay for my rent, and I won’t get my monthly stipend until I begin. Furthermore, the income I had from my job as a private swim instructor has been put on pause since pools have been deemed unessential. I was very uncertain about my future and it was very scary,” Woods said.

Fortunately, ECU was ready to help with money from its student emergency funds. Woods’ academic department put her in touch with the financial aid office, and within 24 hours she had funding in her account. Since the start of the coronavirus, Pirates near and far have raised more than $55,000 for student emergency funds.

“I’m shocked at how easy they made it and how quickly they were able to do it!” Woods said. “They’ve given me funding for my rent for May and June. If I get delayed longer, I can apply again. It was such a relief to know I would not have to worry about how I would pay for all my expenses.”

Woods said she is thankful for everyone who has given to the student emergency fund and knows there are many students in similar circumstances.

“Donors share the opportunity to keep the emergency funds available to those in need,” she said. “I am just so grateful for the support I have received throughout this whole ordeal. It makes me truly proud to be a Pirate.”

-by Erin Ward, University Communications