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$400K+ in SGA Grants Support Students Through Pandemic

Funds Will Help With Emergency Needs, Food Insecurity, More

By Annie Krakower and Sala Levin ’10

M Circle

Photo by John T. Consoli

More than $410,000 in grants from UMD's Student Government Association will bolster the Student Crisis Fund, fight food insecurity on campus, provide free feminine hygiene products and expand mental health training.

Normally, the University of Maryland’s Student Government Association doles out hundreds of thousands of dollars each semester from student fees to fund everything from the Filipino Cultural Association’s conference expenses to TEDxUMD’s space rentals to Maryland Quidditch’s bus to regional competitions. But in this anything-but-normal 2020, COVID-caused cancelations put an end to such events.

But that doesn’t mean those fees are going to waste. This week, the SGA passed a bill allocating more than $400,000 of rollover Spring 2020 funds for student services, helping to address the heightened challenges brought on by the pandemic. The contributions will go toward combating food insecurity, expanding mental health training, providing free feminine hygiene products and supporting Terps in financial distress.

“Throughout the year, we support the student body in many different ways, and now we're about to support the student body in a big financial way,” SGA President Dan Alpert said. “It’s an exciting day for the student body and a step forward for ensuring students have the resources they deserve.”

Of the $410,249 in newly allocated funds, $300,000 will go toward the Student Crisis Fund, which provides emergency financial aid to help Terps in need pay for food, housing and other basic necessities. Since the pandemic first shut down much of the state in March, the fund has awarded over $1.3 million to more than 2,500 students, with applications for grants peaking at nearly 250 per day in April.

While demand has slowed since then, addressing each applicant has “definitely felt like a catch-up game,” Division of Student Affairs Coordinator Sarah Williamson said, with donations to the fund going right back out as grants and sometimes requiring a wait list. Awards are $500 on average, so the SGA contribution will help around 600 Terps—which will be especially beneficial as students figure out their plans for next semester, Williamson added. 

“When we got this gift, I was speechless,” she said. “(It will) allow us to continue to work in a way that we’re not necessarily having to tell students, ‘Hold on,’ which we haven’t been able to do since before March.”

Besides addressing financial emergencies, the SGA will also allocate $48,000 to fund a three-year pilot program that will put free feminine hygiene products in 25 campus bathrooms—a cause first championed by Get Ovary It, a student group combined with a national movement to combat period stigma and lack of access to menstrual hygiene tools. 

The group, started by graduates Lauren Anikis and Claire Mudd and current students Hailey Chaikin, Hope Kahn and Zoe Weisberg, began as a project for a Fall 2019 public policy class intertwined with the Do Good Institute.

They applied for a Student Facilities Fund grant last year to install dispensers for free menstrual products, but it fell through amid COVID-19. Continued lobbying with the assistance of Josie Shaffer, the fund’s chair and SGA director of student affairs, helped get the cause onto the latest SGA bill, and now, they’ll coordinate to select which bathrooms, including gender-neutral facilities, in each school and college will get the dispensers.

“Once you get to college, a lot of students have to start paying their own bills. The last thing they should have to worry about is having to pay for tampons over food,” Weisberg said. 

Another $47,249 will go to the Campus Pantry for the creation of a Culinary Training Center, which will provide space to increase food literacy through hands-on instruction.

Cooking demonstrations at the new center will teach Terps kitchen basics and skills for preparing healthy meals, Director of Dining Services Colleen Wright-Riva said. For example, students might not know what to do with fresh vegetables they receive through the Campus Pantry, so a class could feature UMD Farm Manager Guy Kilpatric showing how to use the produce in meal prep.

“This type of demonstration would be an avenue to impart the knowledge and to have students eat something very nutritious (and delicious) at the same time,” Wright-Riva said. “The commitment to fund the Culinary Training Center will make a significant positive impact for years to come.”

Rounding out the allocations are $5,000 to the Emergency Meal Fund, which will provide food-insecure students with temporary free dining hall meals, and $10,000 toward free mental health training over the next two semesters.

“It’s not often that an SGA has the ability to allocate this much money to important student services to directly benefit all students on campus,” Alpert said. “These initiatives have been priorities of SGA for years, and being able to contribute … during this pandemic is something we are very proud about.”

Schools & Departments:

Division of Student Affairs

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