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In the face of an international pandemic, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s vice president for university advancement, Khatmeh Osseiran-Hanna, knew that help couldn’t wait.

On March 19 — three days before the university transitioned to online classes for all students — Osseiran-Hanna and her team established the Emergency Response Fund, designed to help defray costs experienced by students associated with technology, unexpected travel and other unanticipated expenses related to the pandemic.

In August, the university renamed the Emergency Response Fund the Student Assistance Fund in recognition of the ongoing needs of students due to unforeseen situations. The goal for the Student Assistance Fund is $1 million.

This year, IUP will focus its Giving Tuesday efforts on the Student Assistance Fund.

Giving Tuesday is a national effort, scheduled the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (Dec. 1). IUP joined this national effort in 2017. Since that initial year, students, employees, alumni and friends have donated more than $36,400 to assist students.

“For the last three years, funds raised during IUP’s Giving Tuesday have been directed to providing assistance to students in emergency situations,” she said. “Focusing on the Student Assistance Fund for Giving Tuesday donations is the right fit.”

IUP will focus promotion of this opportunity to “give back” on GivingTuesday through the university’s

social media platforms: Facebook and #GivingTuesday on twitter and its website, www.iup.edu/giving tuesday.

Fundraising for the Student Assistance Fund is one of the priorities of the university’s Imagine Unlimited $75 million comprehensive campaign. The Imagine Unlimited campaign — currently at 99 percent of goal — will enable IUP to step forward as a national leader by transforming the student experience through scholarships, program enhancements, and new and modernized facilities. The campaign is expected to reach — and perhaps surpass — $75 million by the end of the calendar year.

“When times are challenging and uncertain, support from our alumni, employees and friends becomes even more important in our efforts to provide stability and growth for our promising students, and our donors continue to show us that they believe in IUP and its future through their generosity. The love and passion that they have for IUP — and our students — is inspiring,” Osseiran-Hanna said.

“When COVID-19 really hit in March, we saw so many of our students with families facing job losses because businesses were shut down. My immediate instinct was that our students needed help immediately. Families could no longer help their student with rent or food, and so many students lost their own jobs that were helping to finance their education,” Osseiran-Hanna said. “We couldn’t be in a mode of ‘let’s meet about it, let’s send a mailing’ — we had to act now.”

She is quick to point out that while the fund has met the needs of 433 students through the $295,437 raised to date, the need is still very real, present and ongoing.

“IUP has a well-deserved reputation for being a family, a place where you find your home away from home, where alumni and friends pay it forward,” Osseiran-Hanna said. “The Student Assistance Fund provides that one-time support to help students in immediate need.

“Everyone has been affected by this pandemic. There are so many unknowns, but our students are resilient, and they want to continue their studies, to make a better life for themselves, for their families, for our nation and for our world,” she said. “They just need a little help to stay on track.”

While many donations to IUP related to student needs caused by the pandemic focused on the ERF/Student Assistance Fund, donors have also been strong in support for IUP’s Food Pantry and Help Center. IUP created the Food Pantry and Help Center in fall 2019 to address student food insecurity; the project has grown to provide hygiene items and school supplies. The project received a significant donation from Terry Serafini. Since March, more than $4,688 has been donated by 73 individuals.

“Our donors truly understand that our students have basic needs that are in danger of not being met, and they have stepped up in all possible ways to help,” she said.

Osseiran-Hanna relates her feeling of urgency related to the needs of IUP students to her own childhood and to her native country of Lebanon.

“My home country has faced war and invasion. People lost their homes in an instant. That was the feeling I had as the pandemic hit the United States and our IUP alumni and friends all over the world. So many of our students and their families are living on the edge.

“My biggest driver is the sense of urgency that I see from these students in need. We can’t get bogged down in bureaucracy, or over analyze the situation. We need to meet the needs of our students. It’s just the right thing to do.”