Students, strangers scramble to help classmates after campus closings

Local colleges, students, community organizations and everyday Georgians are offering assistance — including their homes — to college students in need of temporary housing, food, part-time jobs and other resources as campuses close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Atlanta region’s largest colleges and universities have all announced in recent days that they are ending in-person classes for the rest of the spring semester and making plans to switch to online instruction. For some students, particularly international students and those from low-income families, returning to their homes is a challenge as some nations have restricted travel and flying home can be expensive.

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Students from several schools have banded together to find help online and through social media for students in need. Thirty-five students from a number of Atlanta colleges have asked for various forms of help, said Nate Knauf, a first-year Georgia Tech master’s degree student.

“There are a lot of international students, state students who don’t have a way home or a place to store their belongings,” said Knaup, who is assisting through Georgia Tech’s Young Democratic Socialists of America.

At Emory University, student government leaders have given out free MARTA cards to classmates who needed them. Emory is providing $1,000 stipends to students with significant financial needs. Georgia State University is offering limited counseling services.

Atlanta’s historically black colleges and universities, in conjunction with student groups, are seeking emergency funds for students who need money to return home and set up online donation weblinks. Morehouse College alumni have donated more than $215,000, an official said.

“The contributions are still coming in proving that even during a global crisis, the benevolent brotherhood at Morehouse College remains strong,” said Monique Dozier, Morehouse’s vice president of the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Morehouse senior John Bowers, who is also student government association president, has spent the past few days helping classmates while preparing to move from his apartment to his hometown, Dallas, Texas. Bowers and student leaders have discussed needs with college administrators and shared information with students on social media, through flyers and telephone calls. There have been some victories, such as a Tuesday morning Twitter post by a Clark Atlanta University graduate that temporary housing had been found for a Morehouse student and a Clark Atlanta student.

Bowers said while packing Tuesday afternoon that he’s aware of five classmates who need such help. Morehouse has set a deadline of noon Wednesday for students to move off campus. Some students, though, cannot return home because of curfews and other restrictions in some cities, Bowers said. Morehouse has set up online forms to handle requests from students who cannot return home and need on-campus housing.

In addition to temporary housing, Bowers said student needs also include food, since nearby grocery stores are virtually empty, and storage space for students who must leave their dorms.

The work, he said, has been challenging, but the collaboration amongst students is “a beautiful thing to see.”

Many college students nationally are facing similar challenges. Businesses, such as U-Haul, have offered 30 days of free self-storage to college students.

Grace House, a joint ministry that works with several metro Atlanta colleges, has contacted churches and other organizations in recent days and found families willing to let students stay in their homes, said its pastor, Andrew Rickel. Grace House is also trying to assist students who cannot come to their part-time jobs on campus.

Covington resident Toni Fowler Dugar posted a message last week on Facebook offering her home to students who needed a temporary place to stay. Three students accepted, she said, and they stayed briefly before finding flights back to their homes.

Dugar, a human resources coordinator for Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention organization, said she decided to help in that way after the company encouraged its employees to consider ways to assist students even as they worked from home.

Dugar said the biggest challenge of housing her temporary guests was providing the typical needs of college students.

“As long as I had the Wi-Fi working and some snacks, they were OK,” Dugar said.

Dugar, who has lupus, said contracting the virus didn’t cross her mind.

“I’m grateful and honored to be one of many people who can provide resources wherever we can,” she said. “There are hundreds of me out there.”

And the offer for students who need a place to stay, Dugar said, still stands.