The global coronavirus outbreak has prompted a mass exodus from university campuses around the country. For those who remain - either out of choice or necessity - there are pressing questions about day-to-day survival.
But with the help of those who have stepped up to help them out– from fellow college students to parents and internet providers alike– some of that stress might be lifted off their shoulders.
At USC, Veronica Marks, a junior screenwriting major, started a de-facto food pantry from out of their apartment. The idea, adapted from similar concepts at the University of Michigan, Wesleyan University and Middlebury College, came when Marks realized there would be an issue with students evacuating campus for weeks after spring break, leaving behind food that would soon go bad.
The answer? Transfer some of that food to students who may need it if the situation worsens.
“There are other people who are losing their jobs, especially on-campus jobs, and they need to eat,” they said. “It seemed like a pretty simple solution to me.”
Marks took to Facebook in a post made on Thursday, asking for student support.
“If you are staying and lost your job/are food-insecure/etc, PLEASE come to my house and take/eat said food/groceries!!! Message me for my address and gate code,” they wrote.
By the same afternoon, students had already delivered goods like pasta, yogurt and applesauce, which Marks organized neatly on a table while clearing out their fridge. For now, the plan is to make more space for future donations.
“There’s also the possibility that we have too much food to store here so I have other friends that have offered to open up their homes for the same thing,” they said. “My dream is that we foster an environment where we all care for each other and share for each other.”
Religious organizations on-campus have also stepped up to reach out to students who may be struggling.
Rabbi Dov Wagner and his wife Runya live near campus at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center, an organization that aims to provide Jewish students a “home away from home.” During the coronavirus outbreak, their mission remains the same, just with a few added precautions.
According to Wagner, their main goal is “to be here for students.”
In order to stay within the university's guidelines for handling coronavirus, Chabad has canceled all formal gatherings. However, the couple has been reaching out individually to the five or six students they know who are remaining on campus over spring break to invite them to Chabad to celebrate Shabbat.
The Wagners have also reached out to other students who frequent Chabad events to offer support during this difficult time.
“On the one hand, we’re practicing social distancing as a safety measure,” Wagner said. “But on the other hand, [we’re] learning how to be connected with each other in new ways that will get us through this.”
“More than ever before, it’s important for students and for everybody to look for ways to help each other,” he said.
Once spring break ends and students start to settle in to the new routine of remote learning, the Wagners hope to offer online classes to continue the conversations and discussions that Chabad usually offers.
“It’s a labor of love,” says Rory Bennett, a founding member of the group. “But it’s gratifying, and really worth it, because students only ask for help when they really need it.”
Bennett’s most recent endeavor has been connecting USC parents and students in Facebook Messenger groups that span the United States and the rest of the world. So far, she’s set up individual chats have been set up for parents in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, to name a few.
After the global coronavirus outbreak, she also saw the need for a source of support for USC’s international community.
“USC should really have done more to update international parents on what was happening,” Bennett says. “That’s why we created that group for international students and parents.”
The Local Moms and Dads at USC Facebook group has been working overtime to anticipate everything students might need as they sort out their plans for the next few weeks.
“We’ve been trying to work out airport transportation, storage, packing up, shipping and even temporary jobs for students if things do get to that point,” Bennett said. “There are so many parents [in the group] who just say, ‘let me know what you need.’”
Bennett’s advice for students? Take a deep breath and calm down.
“Us LA parents, we’ve been through it all. The Northridge earthquakes, the wildfires, the droughts, natural disasters. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to evacuate my family within the hour,” Bennett said. “This virus might not be under your control, but how you respond to it is.”
“You’ll get through this,” she said. “We’re here to support you.”