Students at Lehman College, many of whom juggle school, work and family responsibilities, are often recognized as some of CUNY’s best academic performers.
As the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic widens across the U.S., they also are now among the worst sufferers of the economic fallout as a result of the public health crisis.
To provide some relief, staff, faculty and alumni last week worked with Institutional Advancement to launch Lehman Cares: The Campaign for Lehman College, collectively raising more than $40,000 so far for basic living and education expenses for students, many suddenly unemployed, and living in multi-family situations where they care for their own children, younger siblings and elderly relatives. Students have also reported they have little or no money for food, medicine or other basic needs for themselves or their families.
“I hear from students, faculty and advisors and so I was already aware of our students’ financial constraints and difficulties,” said Dene T. Hurley, chair of the Department of Economics and Business, who immediately contributed to the fund, and solicited her colleagues to do the same. “Our students don’t always have the same opportunities as those at private colleges and universities.”
The fundraising effort will provide students with financial support through a Student Emergencies Fund, which provides microgrants up to $500 for student emergencies and financial difficulties; and a 2020-2021 Scholarship Fund, that will support expendable scholarships, which, given the current financial climate, will be more important than ever in terms of supporting students in the coming academic year.
A Lehman Cares Committee, formed to assist with fundraising, includes more than 40 faculty, staff, and alumni so far.
While the generosity of the Lehman College community is considerable, it is also not surprising, said Institutional Advancement Vice President Susan Ebersole.
“In addition to the staff and faculty, we have an alumni network of more than 90,000 Lehman graduates, many of whom are very well acquainted with the challenges of earning an education while working and taking care of their families in the best of times,” she said. “The community put out the call for help for our students and the overwhelming response is inspiring, but not surprising. Everyone coming together in a time of crisis to serve and assist students is really the Lehman way.”
Tara Tomlinson and Robert Pagan, members of the Institutional Advancement team, are coordinating the effort.
“Each one of our student-athletes, along with every Lehman student, deserve to live a life that is free from fear of not having enough food on their table,” Martin Zwiren, Lehman’s director of Athletics. “As I read the e-mail from [the committee] on Sunday night I immediately responded with a donation from my wife Paula and I as a gesture that shows the love and esteem in which I hold the students of Lehman College.”
“My students are what motivated me to donate,” said Jennifer Laird, an assistant professor of Sociology. “I have one student–a single mother–who is currently sick. I have another student who is now responsible for homeschooling her five younger siblings. Another student notified me yesterday that she lost two family members to the virus.”
A Virtual Food Pantry
A “Virtual Pantry Service Interest and Needs” survey, completed by the Office of Campus Life in March, reported in-person visits to Lehman’s free food pantry, the last week of March, dropped 90 percent compared to typical weeks before the coronavirus outbreak, but not because of a lack of need. Many of those surveyed said they were afraid to travel via public transportation due to the lack of social distancing and fear of exposing children, sick and older relatives in their homes.
“Our typical numbers of pantry users before the coronavirus varied from 80-100 students per week,” said Campus Life Associate Director Suzette Ramsundar (’10). “Last week only two people showed up for their appointments. Students are scared to travel.”
As a result, the food pantry will move all of its services online starting Tuesday, April 14, 2020, distributing gift cards that can be used for online food purchases.
The new mode of operation for the pantry was tested earlier in March after the staff in the Division of Enrollment Management raised a collective $2,650 donation for Lehman students. Pantry staff was able to use the funds to help food pantry recipients order food online for home delivery.
“Lehman is a strong community that cares deeply about students and each other, and that is what we will model during this period,” Ramsundar said.
The Lehman Cares Committee wants to assure donors that “your donation will have a tangible impact on the students you know, teach, and care about every day. What you give will provide critical and timely support for their basic needs and educational journey,” they wrote in the March 31, 2020 e-mail. “We are built for this moment. We will only persevere if we function as a community.”
Please visit here to support The Campaign for Lehman College: Lehman Cares and provide financial support to Lehman College students.