Since 2005, Stony Brook University’s Alternative Spring Break Outreach (ASBO) has offered students a way to use their time off to come to the aid of others, such as traveling to communities ravaged by natural disaster. This year, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, ASBO took on a different mission: It partnered with two campus fraternities — Phi Delta Epsilon and Iota Nu Delta — to raise money for hospitals in need of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Phi Delta Epsilon, a co-ed international medical fraternity, chose to raise donations for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for children’s hospitals, medical research and community awareness of children’s health issues.
The reason was simple:
“This pandemic has made a huge impact not only on the ICU, emergency rooms, and other facilities in hospitals, but also in pediatrics where many of these children have underlying health problems that compromise their immune systems,” said Kiran Sharma ’21, Phi Delta Epsilon secretary.
Sharma joined forces with Muntej Sahni ’22, president of Iota Nu Delta, in reaching out to ASBO in determining how best to raise the maximum amount of money in the quickest amount of time. Eventually, the three groups decided that donations would be split between Children’s Miracle Network, which treats more than 2,000 children with cancer and other terminal diseases daily — a group at risk for COVID-19 infection — and Elmhurst Hospital, located in the country’s epicenter of the virus.
To incentivize prospective donors, they came up with a series of challenges.
Through social media, they created a COVID-19 “This or That” Challenge Fundraiser in which participants built a castle out of cards, engaged in an ice bucket challenge, took part in a blindfolded makeup challenge, made a TikTok video and went on an alphabet scavenger hunt.
“An in-person fundraiser is much different than planning a virtual one. We wanted to create a fun and interactive way for everyone to stay connected during quarantine,” said Rhea Manjrekar, ASBO public relations coordinator. “As college students, we spend a lot of time together, so quarantine has been a struggle for many Stony Brook students.”
A total of $4,500 was raised, “more than nine times our original goal of $500,” said Manjrekar, who added that Children’s Miracle Network was one of the organizations chosen because “ASBO’s values strongly align with those of that organization.
“Its mission is to treat as many children as possible, regardless of their background or financial status, and they are only able to do so with donations that they receive,” she said. “Our funds will go toward purchasing medical equipment and PPE for both the children and their healthcare workers. We decided to also donate to Elmhurst Hospital because it is in dire need of PPE.”
Michelle Hartmann ’21, ASBO fundraising chair, and James Reiter ’20, vice president of fundraising for Phi Delta Epsilon, also played critical collaborative roles.
Head ASBO fundraiser committee member Hartmann describes her experience: “In addition to coming up with the fundraising ideas, I had to collaborate with the other organizations so we were on the same page with how it would all play out. This cause was important to me because being a social work major, I saw how this pandemic has impacted lives in all different aspects, and as a society it was our time to give back and let our frontline workers know they were not alone.”
“It was amazing to see both the Stony Brook community and those outside of it come together virtually to help support a cause and make a difference! I felt a sense of solidarity, and it touched my heart,” she said.
“As ASBO is a service-learning organization, it is our mission not only to give back where we can, but to truly understand and empathize with the communities we are working with. Devoting spring break to volunteer is truly amazing, but it is important to understand that we are privileged to even have the opportunity to do so,” said Manjrekar.
— Glenn Jochum