When the COVID-19 pandemic found its way to the border of UNC’s campus in March, the transition to remote learning was one of many concerns facing students. As at universities across the country, the burden of housing, employment and financial insecurity rocked UNC's student population and jeopardized plans that many had to complete their education on time.

But then UNC donors stepped in.

What began as a small note in President Feinstein’s spring update to alumni expanded to a full crowdfunding campaign during the first months of the pandemic's impact. By July 2020, thousands of dollars had been raised by individual and organizational donors committed to helping UNC students weather the financial uncertainty of COVID-19. Gifts came in from across the country and the average amount contributed during the campaign was $97.

“We like to say that Bears Support Bears, but I was blown away by the immediate generosity of our donor community to support students facing financial hardship,” says Kelsey Crane ’14, UNC’s assistant director of annual giving. “Our donor community really stepped up and by supporting the UNC Disaster Relief Fund, donors enabled UNC to direct additional financial support to students during an incredibly difficult time.”

The pandemic, which intensified the financial hardship facing UNC students, resulted in income loss, housing changes, and new computer purchases needed for use in remote learning. As all students grappled with changes to college life, the bigger question of college cost began to surface.

“The pandemic has certainly impacted everyone,” says Marty Somero, director of financial aid. “For many of our students it impacted them to the point of having to choose between continuing to attend UNC or helping their family make ends meet. Many were forced to pick up extra work hours or having to scramble to look for new jobs as the pandemic forced layoffs or even full loss of employment.”

According to recent UNC student survey, 42.5% of responding students indicated an increased financial aid need as a result of the pandemic.

“Honestly, in almost 40 years of working in financial aid, I have never seen such extreme needs as we have right now. For many, the idea of attending UNC and obtaining a degree feels further away than ever,” says Somero.

Yet donors, through the UNC Disaster Relief Fund and other student support funds, stepped up to help address that need.

“It has been amazing seeing the impact the Disaster Relief Fund has had on helping UNC students,” shares Somero.  “Awards have ranged from fulfilling the simplest of needs such as helping a family get internet for the very first time so the student could complete their online courses; to help pay the cost of moving back home in order to take care of sick loved ones; to being able to put food on the table for themselves or their families.”

While fund use and impact varied by student circumstance, one thing remained consistent, gratitude and hope.

In each student thank you note collected by Somero’s team, students gratefully shared their appreciation for donor support and the impact that support has had on furthering their plans to complete a UNC education. And since the funds raised came from donors across the country, some of whom are anonymous, many students began their note with a simple “Dear Generous Donor” and went on to write about their families, their circumstances and even their career aspirations. Each note is a personal reflection of the life and education touched by UNC’s donor community.

Crane hopes to carry the message of gratitude and community forward to UNC donors as she prepares to launch Giving Bearnanza, a week-long campaign to support campus causes including additional support for the Disaster Relief Fund. Launching on December 1 (Bear Tuesday) and running through December 8 (Colorado Gives Day) the week long initiative will invite the Bear Community to continue their support for several student-oriented programs and funds.

“I think it is important that our donors realize that their gifts, gifts of every amount, directly support our students and aid their academic completion,” says Crane. “You may live far from Greeley, but what the pandemic has taught us is that we remain a community connected and that your gift makes a difference.”

How You Can Help

Giving Bearnanza is a week-long fundraising event that invites our Bear Community to come together and support what UNC is all about: the determination, dedication, and success of our students.

The week of philanthropy kicks-off on December 1 (Bear Tuesday) and ends on December 8 (Colorado Gives Day).

Visit unco.edu/bearnanza to learn about the campus causes tied to student need and opportunity. And follow UNC on social media beginning December 1 to accept the invitation to become one of UNC’s many generous donors.