Rising to the Occasion

Philanthropic gifts ease hardships for students during the coronavirus pandemic

Eastern’s longstanding commitment to community engagement by helping people and organizations in need has perhaps never been more evident than during the current COVID-19 epidemic.

This pledge to helping others when it’s needed most remains with Eastern students long after they graduate. When the coronavirus crisis struck, Eastern alumni rose to the occasion, making significant philanthropic gifts to help ease the economic hardships of EMU students.

Since early April 2020, the Eastern Michigan University Foundation has received nearly $150,000 in gifts from more than 400 donors (75 of whom donated for the first time) to support the Student Emergency Fund and the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry.

Serving Students

Besides alumni gifts, the University received significant contributions from faculty, staff, friends of the University, and community partners. The DTE Energy Foundation generously gave $5,000 to Swoop’s and $3,500 to the emergency fund. The EMU Foundation Board also stepped to the plate, raising $75,000 for the emergency fund and Swoop’s in a fundraising campaign. These contributions include a generous $50,000 gift from GameAbove—a group of EMU alumni with various academic and professional backgrounds.

Swoop’s Food Pantry is an on-campus service that provides Eastern students and the community with food items and other resources to eliminate hunger. The Student Emergency Fund provides monetary assistance to Eastern students who are experiencing an unforeseen crisis.

“The DTE Energy Foundation aspires to be a force for growth and good in the communities we serve,” says Molly Luempert-Coy (BS91 MA92), regional manager at DTE and chair of the Eastern Michigan University Foundation Board of Trustees. “Our Foundation is humbled and grateful to be able to provide to EMU students through Swoop’s Food Pantry during these uncertain and challenging times, and to ensure students – our future leaders – have the basic necessities they need to learn, grow and thrive."

These funds couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Since the emergence of the pandemic, applications for emergency funding have risen from a handful to more than 200, while the food pantry recorded more than 700 visits.

Removing Barriers

“These programs are more important now than ever,” Luempert-Coy says, adding that then-student body president Ethan Smith told her the top funding priorities for students were the Student Emergency Fund and Swoop's. "The DTE Foundation, the EMU Foundation Board and other donors are providing the critical assistance students need to stay engaged in learning and complete their degrees," she says. "After all, we know when our students succeed, our institution succeeds—and so does our region, state and nation.”

Jessica Bryne (BA15) of Ypsilanti is a first-time donor to the University. She designated her gifts to Swoop’s and the emergency fund.

“Students who use the food pantry are doing everything in their power to get an education,” Bryne says. “No student should have to choose between food and an education. The emergency fund is a safety net that can make the difference between students continuing their education or dropping out. In these times, the last thing students need to worry about is funding to remain in school.”

Kevin and Jan Shonce (BS79 MA80) of Livonia made their first-time gift to Eastern this summer. They designated it to Swoop’s.

“It’s important to remove barriers to student success,” Kevin says. “Food should not be a barrier for any person putting themselves through school. When the pandemic began, I knew there would be a need for food-based charities. I read about Swoop’s and we felt compelled to help out. It’s about doing the right thing.”

By Jeff Samoray

To learn how you can help alleviate student hardships, please visit the EMU Foundation website.