UC Riverside’s Economic Crisis Response Team went into action as soon as students received notifications about staying home due to COVID-19.
The five-unit team consists of representatives from The Well, The Office of Financial Aid, Student Business Services, Housing Services, and Student Affairs Case Management. The team’s goal is to ensure students have food and shelter, the essentials in a person’s hierarchy of needs.
The team was created in January to tackle food insecurity and to keep students from falling into homelessness, said Devon Sakamoto, director of The Well, the unit that oversees the program as well as UCR’s food pantry, R’Pantry. Similar teams already exist across all UC campuses.
Between January and early March, the team handled 30 cases. As of the beginning of last week, the number jumped to 70. The 40 additional cases include students that have temporarily lost employment due to COVID-19, placing many of them in extreme peril.
Of the 70 cases, 33 have specifically indicated a need for housing support; the team, so far, has assisted three students with emergency housing, said Megan Harbert, basic needs coordinator with The Well.
R’Pantry also saw an increase in food requests. During its two days of operation last week, the pantry gave out 210 bags of groceries. Students formed a line outside the Arts Building, standing 6 feet apart per social distancing requirements; some wore face masks too. Students could choose from a regular bag, filled with staples such as rice, diced tomatoes, and spaghetti; or a bag filled with essential vegan items. The Well partnered with Sub Station, the local sandwich shop, so students could pick up a loaf of bread there, Harbert said.
“This is labor-intensive and exhausting work, but it’s motivating to see the commitment from our Well team,” Harbert said.
The Well’s staff is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach, focusing on assisting students with basic needs, in addition to promoting student well-being. Money used to support students through financial grants, housing subsidies, and grocery assistance comes from California’s general fund allocated through the 2019-2020 Budget Act to all UC campuses and earmarked specifically to address food and housing insecurities, Sakamoto said.
By having representatives from five different departments, the Economic Crisis Response Team can provide a comprehensive solution. The team meets virtually once a week to review applications and discuss support options for each case. For many of the Economic Crisis Response Team members, this commitment comes in addition to their regular job responsibilities, Harbert said.
“We want students to be mentally and physically well. In order for them to be well, we have to provide them with basics, such as food and shelter,” Sakamoto said. “In light of COVID-19, The Well team and ECRT have rallied together.”
Students in need can make a request online: https://basicneeds.ucr.edu/economic-crisis-response-team
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