Screenshot of a Zoom call showing members of the SEC allocations committee
The SEC allocations committee meets virtually.

Lending a hand: Students create fund to help classmates amid COVID-19 changes

When juniors Joey Kass and Hunter Stecko learned classes would be conducted remotely for the remainder of the spring semester, they sprung into action—not to figure out their own next steps, but to help their fellow Case Western Reserve University students. 

Working with the Student Executive Council’s (SEC) Allocations Committee, the Student Presidents’ Roundtable, Undergraduate Student Government (USG), CWRU student organizations and dedicated students and staff members, Kass and Stecko spearheaded the creation of the Student Activities Fee COVID-19 Emergency Fund (SAF-CEF).

As chairman of the SEC Allocations Committee, Kass had worked closely with Stecko, vice president of finance for USG. But it was coincidence that brought them together on this project. 

“Quite literally, Joey and I developed the same idea 100% independently of each other,” Stecko recalled. 

The idea was simple: Use the funds that had been allocated for spring semester activities—which now were canceled—to help support students impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Stecko sent a proposal to Associate Vice President for Operations and Planning Dennis Rupert to review. As Rupert read Stecko’s emailed proposal, Kass walked into his office to ask him about his own idea for an emergency fund.

“As soon as Joey got out of his meeting with Dennis, he called me, and we both said, ‘we have to do this,’” Stecko remembered.

From there, Kass took the idea a step further. While the initial plan proposed using only USG’s extra funds, Kass realized there was still money that could be available to use, and suggested approaching student organizations for donations. Kass began reaching out to organizations on a Sunday night, and by Thursday he had successfully raised roughly $350,000 for the fund.

While they finalized the request form, workflow and other logistics, Stecko fielded submissions submitted to his own inbox and fulfilled about $12,000 worth of requests in the first five days. 

“We knew there were going to be a certain number of students who weren’t going to be able to wait for us to build a form or workflow, and we wanted to make sure they got what they needed,” said Stecko. “Best Buy called me seven times in one day to ask why I was buying so many laptops and shipping them all to different addresses,” he laughed.

As of this week, the fund has received nearly 300 requests and has paid out roughly $50,000 toward student relief. Common requests include technology-related items such as laptops, noise-canceling headphones and internet for students who previously relied on university technology, rent payments, groceries and other basic living expenses.

Though a donor-created Student Emergency Fund already exists at the university, Kass and Stecko knew there would likely be a huge influx of requests, and that the existing fund may be limited in both the amount of money they could disperse, and the speed at which they could respond to requests. They felt the two funds could work together to fulfill requests, and that it would be a good way to get the student community involved.

“We knew we had to do whatever we could to get students the money or equipment they needed, and we felt this was something that could go a long way in boosting morale,” said Kass. “It kind of works two ways: Students are being helped by these donations, but at the same time those involved in our organizations can feel good about doing something to support our CWRU community. It always feels good to help, and I think we could all use something to feel good about these days.”

Reflecting on the past three weeks, both Kass and Stecko feel thankful for the help they’ve received from their fellow students, as well as university administrators. 

“I’m really thankful that people are as generous as they are at this university,” said Kass. “This definitely would not have been able to happen if everyone hadn’t pitched in and helped in whatever way they could. There was truly no part of this that wasn’t a team effort.”

All major student organizations represented by the Student Presidents’ Roundtable and many other smaller organizations have donated to the fund in varying amounts, and they are still accepting donations from organizations who want to get involved. The Allocations Committee continues to meet virtually to review allocations requests, and plans to keep the fund open through the end of the semester.

“I think the big thing that all of this proves is that none of us are alone, and that we can all help out in some small way,” said Stecko. “I hope that even in the midst what seems to be one of the most confusing times in our living memory, this can still bring a little bit of brightness.”

Students can submit a request to the Student Activities Fee COVID-19 Emergency Fund in CampusGroups.