Created in 2017 to address food and housing insecurity among its student population, NC State’s Pack Essentials program is there to help when emergencies and unexpected life events happen. But as the new coronavirus, COVID-19, caused disruption across the state of North Carolina and the nation this month, the need for Pack Essentials is greater than ever before.
As students lose employment opportunities both on and off campus to comply with the government’s physical distancing policies, Mike Giancola, assistant vice provost and student ombudsperson, and his team have been working around the clock to ensure students can pay their bills after the sudden loss of income.
“It really shines a light on the fact that so many of our students are working—not just five or 10 hours a week, but 20-30,” Giancola said. “Now, they’re wondering how they’re going to pay rent, buy food, pay cell phone bills, and afford insurance.”
Fortunately, the resources provided by Pack Essentials have already helped many students make ends meet. The application process is simple and completely streamlined through the program’s website.
“It’s a way for students to simply raise their hands and say, ‘I need some help,’” Giancola said. “When they submit that application, it goes to the director of financial aid and myself. The two of us review it and she gives me a read on what the student might qualify for so that we make sure we’re in compliance with federal guidelines for financial aid. After that, I reach back out to the student. My goal is always to do that on the same day as we received the application, and in most cases we can do that.”
To address the rising number of applicants during the coronavirus pandemic, Giancola has trained additional staff to review applications and ensure same day assistance. In the last two weeks, the Student Emergency Fund has helped the majority of students to pay for rent, food, travel, and other expenses. As of March 31, the university had issued 639 grants to students totaling over $311,000. And as of March 31, the program, which is funded by generous donations from alumni, employees, and other friends of the university, had received 781 donations for more than $706,725.
Dickson Tam is one of the students who received assistance from the program during the past week.
“NC State is not just an incredible school, but I’ve become part of a family of alumni, faculty, staff, and students,” Tam said. “I can’t thank this family enough for everything they have provided for me during this tough stage of my life. The care that alumni have shown to the school, including me, has touched my life in a miraculous way. Thank you!”
To further assist students, the university announced it would pay all student workers on campus through the end of March, regardless of whether or not they are able to work. In addition, the financial aid office has extended its student loan program. Through the program, students can get a loan up to $500 with just 1 percent interest, and the repayment period has been extended from 30 days to 60 days.
Giancola and his team are also helping students acclimate to the new online classrooms, particularly those who live in rural areas without access to high speed internet. He and his staff have been issuing grants to help students pay for internet service during the spring semester as well as obtain laptops and other technology to ensure they don’t fall behind in the classroom.
“Donations to NC State have helped me continue my education when the school shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak,” said Caitlyn Sosbe, a junior majoring in communications. “Without the help I received, I would not have been able to pay for the internet service I needed to take my classes online and would have struggled to turn in assignments and watch the videos necessary to complete my education at NC State during this semester.”
As Giancola and his team continue to provide support to students, more donations are needed to ensure the program can continue to make a difference.
“The Pack Essentials program, each and every day, is important to student success, but in an unprecedented time like this our efforts to help reduce students’ stress and anxiety around their basic needs, but also their needs to be successful as online students, is paramount,” Giancola said. “We are so grateful for our donors and those who work to connect our students with these resources that help us meet those needs and really deliver on the promise to students that when they come to NC State, we’ll do everything in our power to help them be successful.”
Apply for the Pack Essentials program and learn how you can help at https://dasa.ncsu.edu/pack-essentials/.