Finding Support Among the Chaos

by Elliott Gentile, Office of Development Communications

Three days after scrambling to make her rent, Yesenia Garcia ’21 packed up her life and headed to Mexico, a country she had only visited a handful of times to see her extended family. The coronavirus pandemic had upended her life as she had known it.

Garcia knew that based on her family’s financial situation in California, they would not be able to support her and that Garcia’s small emergency savings would only go so far. Going to Mexico on a tourist visa made the most sense financially, even if that meant she would be separated from family and friends. Since moving to Mexico, Garcia has looked for online jobs teaching English in hopes to stretch her savings while she tries to figure out what to do next.

“I lost my job as a part-time server and decided to move out of San Francisco once classes went online. I felt like I only had one option, which was to leave San Francisco,” recounted Garcia. “I was really worried about going into debt and having to use my credit card for daily expenses.”

Shortly before leaving San Francisco, Garcia heard about the COVID-19 Response Fund, which helped to provide her with financial support to pay off her last month’s rent. Between all the stress that was happening between the shelter in place orders, USF’s transition to remote learning, and the uncertainty for what the future held, Garcia sang the praises of support from her professors and the broader USF community: “Amongst the chaos that was happening, I felt supported.”

Broad Need for Support

Unfortunately, Garcia’s need for support wasn’t an anomaly. Many students’ lives were, and still are, impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Calli Galindo ’20 recounted how COVID-19 has affected every aspect of her life: “Both of my parents were temporarily laid off from their jobs and were not able to help me pay for my rent. And as a recent graduate, our graduation ceremony was put on a pause. Not to mention finding a job in the market right now is not the easiest.”

Through financial support generated by the COVID-19 Response Fund, USF has attempted to mitigate the struggles students like Garcia are facing. The fund covers any assistance needed related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including investing in faculty resources for distance learning, supporting students’ basic needs, such as rent and food, emergency travel, and other valuable resources.

“I learned about the COVID-19 Response Fund from a classmate who was also the ASUSF president,” said Garcia. “He encouraged me to apply and I was so grateful for the opportunity. I felt relieved that it existed and very grateful USF wanted to help.”

Financial support in this way is nothing new, as students could apply for financial assistance to meet their basic needs before the pandemic. In a typical year, the Office of the Dean of Students approves an average of 10 emergency requests, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the requests and awards have surged by a staggering 4000%.

“We have been working with the President’s Office to award as many students as possible for as long as possible,” explained Shannon Gary, associate vice provost and dean of students. “With our current trajectory, we should be able to meet the needs of our students.”

COVID-19 Response Fund Impact

The outpour of support was widespread and by mid-July 2020, over 382 individuals and families stepped up to the call for support. In total, over 526 gifts and pledges were made, ranging from one dollar to $400,000. Small gifts made a large impact as 95% of the total number of gifts received were $1,000 or less.

“For students like me living in San Francisco and attending college, money is tight as I concentrate all my time and energy in my education and focusing on finding a full-time job,” said Galindo. “But with the assistance of the USF community, I was able to keep myself afloat during these difficult times.”

The outpouring of support from the USF community is a reflection of our mission and Jesuit values to care for others, Garcia says the COVID-19 Response Fund is inspiring: “It is such a privilege to have your support and it’s motivating for me. My purpose in this life is to give to others, and you have helped me get one step closer to achieving that. Thank you!”

As of mid-July 2020, every student who has applied for assistance since the COVID-19 Response Fund was instituted, has qualified for assistance and has been awarded all or some of the financial support they requested, according to the Office of the Dean of Students.

“Needs usually vary from year to year, whereas today support for rent and food are the most requested areas of need across the board,” said Gary. “We expect an upswing in the fall when students return to campus and we hope to meet their needs.”

Support is still needed in many areas as the situation continues to unfold worldwide. So we can continue to support our global USF community, consider giving to the COVID-19 Response Fund »