aubrey malloryAubrey Mallory left her Walt Disney World internship because of the pandemic. Her photo was taken outside her home in Birmingham via video conference call.Before the COVID-19 outbreak, UAB graduate student Aubrey Mallory was in Orlando, Florida, for a semester interning at Walt Disney World. She was supposed to stay through May. But by mid-March, the job was cut short because of the pandemic, and Mallory was back in Birmingham with no source of income.

"I didn't know how I was going to stay on top of my bills," explains Mallory, who graduated in May with an M.A. in Communication Management. "I was afraid I was going to get so far behind that I wasn't going to be able to catch up."

Mallory, who is from Birmingham, heard about UAB's Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund. UAB undergraduate and graduate student governments and UAB Student Affairs, bolstered by efforts from UAB community members and donors, created the fund to provide emergency aid to students facing lost wages, a decrease of financial support from parents, relocation expenses, and more. Mallory applied for assistance and was approved to receive enough emergency aid to help her cover her bills. She's one of more than 1,000 students who have been helped by the fund, says Jonathan Adams, director of student conduct and outreach for Student Affairs.

But the fund has been exhausted, Adams says, and so UAB Student Affairs has suspended the application process. If more funds become available, UAB Student Affairs will communicate additional information regarding emergency aid options.

"We're getting more applications than we have the dollars to cover," Adams explains. "The need is still there. For many people, their situations are continuing. For others, it's getting worse."

The Need Continues

More than 1,700 students have applied for assistance from the UAB Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund, and 1,010 students have been granted assistance to date—receiving an average amount of $250. More students have been recommended for approval to receive assistance but haven't been granted any money because the funds aren't available, Adams says. 

Students must meet certain criteria, including demonstrating a need directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak, being enrolled in the term in which they are applying, and providing supporting documentation. Though the initial surge of applications has passed, requests are still coming in at a steady pace, Adams emphasizes.

"I don't think the need will go away anytime soon," he says. "In fact, this isn't going to end once we come back to campus. There are long-term implications for our students."

While students have run into a number of unexpected expenses because of COVID-19, including emergency transportation and costs related to remote online learning, most are related to living and food expenses and financial loss associated with the crisis, Adams says.

"We're seeing that students were laid off from their jobs. A lot were in retail and restaurant positions," he explains. "We've also heard from students who used to receive financial support from their families, but their parents were laid off from their jobs or had their hours cut. Income opportunities have decreased, and it's impacting our students."

Making Hard Decisions

Sydney MadrigalSydney Madrigal joined a UAB photographer for a virtual photoshoot. She's living in Miami, Florida, with her family.As UAB shifted to remote learning and limited operations, and as businesses throughout Birmingham temporarily closed their doors, Sydney Madrigal, then a fourth-year optometry student, started to worry about returning home to Miami, Florida. Madrigal, who is completing UAB's dual O.D./M.P.H. program in the School of Optometry and School of Public Health, wasn't sure if travel restrictions or shelter-in-place orders would keep her in Birmingham. She decided to buy a last-minute flight home so she could be with her family during the crisis. "That was a big, unexpected cost," she says. She applied for help from the Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund and received emergency aid to cover the plane ticket.

"It really made a difference for me," Madrigal says, who earned her O.D. in May and will finish her M.P.H. in December. "And it's made me realize the importance of having a fund like this for students in an emergency. One day, when I have a job and start practicing, I want to give back and support other students in need."

Receiving support can be a game-changer for students, explains Adams. When basic needs aren't being met, students lose their sense of security—and that affects their overall success. As the crisis continues, Adams foresees some students having to make hard decisions about their future at UAB. If receiving financial assistance from the university can help retain students during the pandemic, then it's important to sustain the fund, he says.

"As members of the UAB community, it's our obligation and responsibility to support fellow members of our community," Adams says. "This is a way we can have a direct impact on our students—to help them feel they belong, to help them meet their personal and academic goals, to help them graduate, and, ultimately, to help them benefit society as a whole."

The Impact of a Gift

dara russellDara Russell's virtual photoshoot was held in a Birmingham park. The support she's received from UAB during the pandemic was "a huge help," she says.Dara Russell has a part-time job, but her hours were drastically cut when the COVID-19 outbreak arrived in Birmingham. She looked for other employment, but no one was hiring, and she needed assistance to cover her rent, utility bills, and health insurance—plus gas for her car so she could get to work. The support she received from the Student COVID-19 Emergency Aid Fund helped her bridge the gap.

"If I hadn't gotten that grant, there's no telling what kind of position I would be in," Russell says. "It was a huge help and provided me peace of mind. The idea that somebody would want to help me that much—it's so incredible."

The grant also reinforced what Russell has felt about UAB since she transferred to the university in 2019: She's part of a community. "Ever since I started at UAB, I have received nothing but support," she says. "From teachers to transfer counselors to career advisors—everyone has been wonderful to work with. If I ever need anything, I'm pointed to the right resources. I feel I am in a place where people care about me and my well-being."

Receiving support from UAB also has made a difference to Mallory, who has since found a part-time job at Sam's Club to make ends meet while she searches for a full-time position in communication at a news station.

"It means a lot to me that UAB was able to help," Mallory says. "This is a time when most others are not able to offer extra support and to see that UAB was able to help at just the right time—I really appreciate them."

Part of Adams's job is notifying students when they've been awarded grant money. And the response he's received has been humbling, he says—from tears of gratitude to elated thanks. When reviewing applications, the goal of Student Affairs had been to meet individual students' needs while having an impact on the greatest number of people possible.

The impact of a single gift can be both powerful and meaningful, Russell notes. "It may seem like a little bit to some people, but it was huge for me," she says. "It gave me security and made my life much easier to handle. It gave me the ability to focus on other important things, like school. It was such a blessing, and I don't want anyone to underestimate how much it meant."