COVID-19 Emergency Fund Helps More Than 300 UWEC Students

hundreds of donors have given nearly $100,000 to fund for Blugolds

Judy Berthiaume, UW-Eau Claire |

Greta Zwicker (left) is among the more than 300 Blugolds to benefit from an emergency fund to support students during  the COVID-19 crisis.
Greta Zwicker (left) is among the more than 300 Blugolds to benefit from an emergency fund to support students during the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo: UWEC)

UW-Eau Claire students who are scrambling to get through a chaotic and stressful spring semester have a message for the hundreds of people who contributed nearly $100,000 to an emergency fund that is helping them make ends meet during the pandemic: Thank you for helping to lighten our load.

“From the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful for your willingness to support me through this hard time,” Ellen Marriott, a sophomore kinesiology-rehabilitation science, pre-occupational therapy major who also is earning a certificate in American Sign Language, says of her message to people donating to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s COVID-19 UWEC CARES emergency fund for Blugolds. “Your support and donation is such a blessing and will be appreciated more than you will ever know.

“Thanks to your generosity, I can finally relax and focus on my schoolwork instead of worrying about how I will be able to afford next month’s rent.”

Marriott, a native of Wilton, says the financial support will help her stay on track to fulfill her dream of one day working as a pediatric occupational therapist.

“I absolutely love the career path I have chosen and am looking forward to one day giving back to my community by working in the health field,” Marriott says. “Thank you so much for the support you have given me through this chaotic time in our lives.”

While every Blugold’s story is slightly different, many UW-Eau Claire students are struggling to make sense of what is happening in the world around them right now while at the same time adjusting to online classes, new expenses, lost wages, and other challenges related to the pandemic, says Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

The emergency fund is one way to ease students’ burden so they can focus on their coursework, job search, or graduate school applications rather than worrying about how they might pay rent or buy food during these last weeks of the semester, Way says.

The response from UW-Eau Claire alumni and friends to the emergency fund has been extraordinary, says Way, noting that nearly 600 people already have donated to the fund and gifts of all sizes are continuing to come in daily from people across the country.

“I have been absolutely astounded by the outpouring of support from Blugolds both in the Chippewa Valley and from around the country,” Way says. “Our alumni and friends always are generous but the support for this fund is especially impressive since the pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. That Blugolds are so willing to support our current students despite the challenges in their own lives says so much about our Blugold family.”

To date, the Foundation, along with Financial Aid, have distributed nearly $171,000 to more than 320 current university students. Each student, on average, has received between $400 and $600. The monies have been used in various ways, including everything from paying rent to buying laptops.

Most UW-Eau Claire students do not qualify for the government stimulus fund because they are still claimed as dependents by their families, making the emergency fund even more important to them, Way says.

Many students lost jobs, either on or off campus, when the university and many area businesses closed to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Still others had to quit jobs to take care of loved ones during the crisis.

Connor Miller, a general marketing major from Wausau, depends on his on-campus job to help him pay for college. However, with the campus shut down to all but essential workers, he no longer has a job.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much your aid helped me,” Miller says of receiving money from the emergency fund. “Between rent, food, and life expenses, the money is helping me to get through these uncertain times.”

Sophie Grupe, a senior biology major from Alma Center, is in a similar situation.

“In the wake of everything that has happened, I lost my on-campus job and my main source of income,” Grupe says. “The donation I received has allowed me to make ends meet through the end of the school year.

“I can now focus on finishing out my last semester at UW-Eau Claire strong.”

While the reasons for needing assistance varies, the recipients all say it is making it easier – and sometimes possible – to finish the spring semester.

For seniors graduating in May, it’s also helping alleviate the stress of paying rent and other living expenses while also preparing for the expenses that come with relocating after college.

“As a graduating senior, I am still coping with the fact that my last semester came to an abrupt end and my job for the last three years at a local restaurant manager has come to an end as well,” says Greta Zwicker, an operations and supply chain management major from Appleton who will graduate in May. “The money I have received from this fund will go toward my rent payment this month, which takes a huge weight off my shoulders as I coordinate my relocation to Florida once I graduate.”

Maris Krekelberg, a senior from Burnsville, Minnesota, who will graduate in May with degrees in communication sciences and disorders and Spanish and begin graduate school in the fall in Arizona, had planned to earn money this summer to help with the costs of her move and her graduate school expenses.

“This is a challenging time for everyone, and I really appreciate the support for students like me to get through this last month of the semester,” Krekelberg says. “I am concerned about making enough money this summer before I leave for Arizona with the conditions COVID has created.”

The emergency fund helped her pay her May rent, easing the stress she’s feeling knowing there will be limited opportunities to earn money this summer.

Emily Bindl, a first-generation college student from Lone Rock, says she likely could not have successfully finished the spring semester without the support from the fund.

“Before receiving this donation, I was focused on financials rather than my academics,” Bindl says. “We will be sure to pay it forward in whatever way we can. It is reassuring to know that there is still a lot of good out there in the world during these turbulent times.”

Seeing so many people come together to support current students during this crisis is a good reminder that UW-Eau Claire is a special place, says Kallista Relford, a senior from Cumberland who will graduate in May with a degree in rhetoric of science, technology, and culture and a minor in integrated strategic communication.

“Your kindness has helped and will continue to help countless students and ease some of their anxiety in these uncertain times,” Relford says. “Seeing so many people come together to support each other has made me even more proud of being a Blugold.”

Judy A. Berthiaume is a senior editor with the Integrated Marketing and Communications office at UW-Eau Claire.