Tulane students organize fundraising efforts to support New Orleans community

Hannah Mayer, Contributing Reporter

“We thought that in the same way this virus has spread across our population, we could spread some good by having a viral spread of something positive, such as fundraising,” Tulane senior Ross Berlin said. Berlin and fellow seniors Matthew Wu and Max Steitz, along with history professor Walter Isaacson, are the creators of the massive fundraising initiative Give Back Tulane. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleans is suffering both financially and spiritually. The magic of the city that has captured the hearts of many Tulane students has faded along with the typical tourism that finances it. Students like Berlin, Wu and Steitz have taken this opportunity to give back to a city that has given them so much.

Give Back Tulane is just one of many fundraising efforts that Tulane students have started to give back to New Orleans in its time of need. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Spring Break Fundraising Challenge and Stitch it to the Patriarchy’s fundraiser for the Second Harvest Food Bank are two other major fundraisers started by Tulane students.

Tulane senior Nina Harris founded Stitch It to the Patriarchy in 2019. Stitch It creates and sells sustainable fashion with positive messages, while educating buyers on the importance of wearing environmentally friendly clothing. As Tulane students were quickly packing up to move out of their dorms, Stitch It collected unwanted items, from food to clothes to bathroom product, to donate to the Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_SqtaaHBSq/

“Stitch It thrives to be a platform for positive social change,” Harris said. “We saw an opportunity to eliminate waste, engage the Tulane community, and give back to the city and people who have done so much for all of us. When we had our fundraising efforts, we saw the amazing impact that small contributions can make.”

Though Stitch It donated over 1,700 pounds of food, their donations were only enough to get the food bank through a few weeks. The second round of donations included not only food, but a monetary donation of over $7,000. According to Harris, the $7,000 consisted of many small donations ranging from $3 to $7.

Stitch It to the Patriarchy coordinates donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

One of the major contributors to Tulane fundraising efforts has been students representing Greek life. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter organized a fundraiser titled “SAE’s Spring Break Fundraiser Challenge,” which came to be a competition between all of the sororities. 

The nine sororities in the Tulane Panhellenic Council were given one week to raise as much money as possible for the University Medical Center New Orleans Employee Wellness Fund. The fund is used to promote employee wellness, such as providing fresh meals or psychological support, for employees of UMCNO who are working on the front lines in combatting the pandemic. At the end of each day, SAE posted an update of the standings of the nine sororities. 

At the end of the challenge, Chi Omega raised the most money at $18,880 and Kappa Kappa Gamma raised the second highest amount at $16,179. Between Instagram stories asking friends for a Venmo donation and posting videos of sisters getting pied in the face for donations, the sororities raised a cumulative $53,052. 

“Frankly, we were astonished at how much support we got, and it was terrific to be able to give that much-needed funding to the workers at the University Medical Center New Orleans,” SAE chapter president Julian Paulay sad. “Subsequent to ours, other campus-wide efforts were launched, and if we played a part in getting those started that makes us feel all the better.” 

The sorority competition was only one part of SAE’s fundraising effort. In addition to sorority fundraising, SAE raised over $25,000 from chapter alumni and from friends and families of current members. 

“We wanted to show the community of New Orleans that Tulane students appreciate everything that is being done by the frontline workers fighting coronavirus,” Paulay said. 

Paulay and the entire SAE fraternity worked closely with Dean Howard, director of philanthropy for the Spirit of Charity Foundation. The foundation is the nonprofit affiliate of UMCNO. 

“Julian and the entire Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity have been an unexpected highpoint during this tough time,” Howard said. “All of them along with the nine Panhellenic sororities should be commended for their incredible actions … Our staff is truly on the frontlines of the pandemic working with one of the worst hit communities. SAE’s hard work enables our team to stay motivated and healthy so that they can be there for us all when we need them the most.”

The Give Back Tulane fundraiser uses marketing tactics, primarily on social media, to raise money for gig economy workers, musicians and local food banks in New Orleans. The Second Harvest Food Bank, Jazz Fest and the New Orleans Business Alliance are just three of the many organizations to which Give Back is sending their donations. Through social media posts, videos and Instagram challenges, Give Back Tulane has motivated the Tulane community. 

“In a way, we just wanted to create a sense of community amongst Tulane students, despite the fact that everyone is dispersed around the country for the time being,” Berlin said. “That sense of community and unity yields donations and a wave of Giving Back, and we were able to capitalize on that.”

Give Back Tulane was launched on April 9 through an emotional call to action video. The video featured many notable New Orleans sites and city locals including Tulane students and staff. Through emotional messages spurred throughout the video, viewers were asked to donate to the city.

Immediately after posting, the video was reposted by many Tulane students. A few days later, the Give Back Tulane Instagram account tagged several students’ profiles in a picture recalling Tulane memories, beginning the “see a NOLA mem, send a NOLA mem” Instagram challenge. 

“We had some initial success in our first couple days, but we really from the start wanted a viral challenge of sorts for Tulane students to take part in,” Berlin said. “So, the day everyone was supposed to be headed back to NOLA from Spring Break, we launched the challenge, as it was a particular day people would be missing our city … We had almost 2,000 students tag us in their Instagram stories, not including the ones who posted the challenge without tagging us.” 

As of today, Give Back Tulane has raised over $42,000. According to the Give Back website, four other university communities are working on creating their own Give Back movements at the University of Michigan, Tufts University, Pomona College and the University of North Carolina.