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Greek life mobilizes for philanthropy despite the distance

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Despite the coronavirus pandemic canceling in-person philanthropy events for Duke’s Greek organizations, their members still found creative ways to raise money for local and national causes.

The Chronicle spoke to representatives of Duke’s fraternities and sororities to see how their philanthropy efforts have continued, even as students dispersed for the semester.

Alpha Kappa Alpha: Families Moving Forward

The sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Iota Mu chapter held a virtual gala April 17 to raise money for Families Moving Forward.

Based in Durham, the organization helps families with children find a place to stay while they are “in the temporary crisis of homelessness,” the website states. They also offer educational programming and “early interventions” to children in the shelter.

The sisters originally planned to hold a gala in honor of the 45th anniversary of their Charter Day, but it was canceled when COVID-19 sent students home for the semester.

Chapter President Elise Malone, a senior, wrote in an email that the gala took place through Instagram Live and featured DJ Jaypee, an alum of North Carolina State University. Throughout the livestream, they encouraged participants to donate to Families Moving Forward through a provided link.

“Though we do not know the exact sum we raised from our gala since individuals donated directly to Families Moving Forward, dozens of viewers reported having donated throughout the night,” Malone wrote. “Families Moving Forward NC sent us a heartfelt thank you!”

Alpha Phi: No Kid Hungry

Alpha Phi teamed up with No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that provides food for hungry children in the United States. Recently, they’ve focused their efforts on supplying meals to children whose schools have closed down during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sorority sisters made promotional videos and took to Instagram to promote the fundraiser and encourage their followers to donate to the charity. They each sent five emails to friends and family to invite them to donate as well.

On April 25, participating sisters ran a 5k in support of No Kid Hungry. Senior Anne Littlewood, philanthropy chair of Duke Alpha Phi, said that this was a way to both raise money and encourage people to exercise during social distancing.

“I loved that it brought everyone together as well as raised awareness for an important cause,” she said. “I feel like people are feeling kind of lonely and isolated right now, so it was nice to have everyone doing something at the same time.”

The sisters raised $16,620 for No Kid Hungry, which was more than three times their initial goal, Littlewood said.

Alpha Tau Omega: Sustain-a-Bull

The brothers of Alpha Tau Omega partnered with Sustain-a-Bull, a Durham-based nonprofit that provides resources and support for local businesses.

“Obviously, a lot of small businesses are going through hard times right now,” said sophomore Abhinav Ratnagiri, philanthropy co-chair for ATO’s Duke chapter. “We thought it’d be a great way to help the city of Durham.”

Sustain-a-Bull offered a free Shop Durham card to anyone who donated more than $10. The card gets shoppers discounts, deals and free items at more than 230 local Durham businesses, such as a free cup of coffee at the Durham Co-Op Market, Ratnagiri said. 

They posted on their Instagram stories asking followers if they could Venmo request them for donations. Ratnagiri added that the fraternity brothers also asked friends and family for donations, and the chapter sent an email to the alumni listserv. The brothers raised $2,200 in total for the nonprofit.

Delta Sigma Theta: Families Moving Forward

In addition to Alpha Kappa Alpha, the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta also worked to support Families Moving Forward.

The chapter holds a “Rhapsody in Red” charity ball every year to raise money for a non-profit of the sorority sisters’ choice. This year, senior Adrianna Williams chaired the event.

“Families Moving Forward's mission aligns with our Sorority's programmatic thrusts,” Williams wrote in an email. “Moreover, as a public service sorority, the Lambda Omega chapter chose to raise money for an organization that has made a large impact on the Durham community.”

Although they couldn’t hold an in-person ball this year, the sorority still accepted donations online. They promoted their efforts on social media and through communicating with other organizations. The chapter raised $1,310 for Families Moving Forward, Williams wrote. 

“We are incredibly grateful for our community's support of our fundraising efforts for Families Moving Forward,” chapter President Johnna Lambert, a senior, wrote in a statement. “Even in these unprecedented times, it is reassuring to know that people can come together to support those in need.”

Kappa Alpha Order: Durham Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

In April, the brothers of Kappa Alpha held a challenge on Instagram to raise money for the Durham Food Bank, an organization that provides almost 69 million meals to individuals facing hunger each year. 

From Friday afternoon to Sunday night, KA invited any student group to raise money, where students would post on their Instagram stories to gather Venmo donations for the bank. KA would match the donation of whatever group raised the most money and treat them to an event in the fall, such as a brunch or cookout.

As an additional incentive to get the student body to participate, KA would donate more if non-KA members promoted the fundraiser on Instagram.

“For example, if 10 non-KA people shared it, KA donates an extra ten dollars,” said chapter President Kaan Sahingur, a senior. 

A variety of organizations participated, including sports teams, other fraternities and sororities and groups such as The Cube, Sahingur said. 

“I was very happy that it kind of went beyond the organizations that we very frequently interact with and brought it in student groups we don't interact with as much,” Sahingur said. 

Sahingur added that he thought the competitive nature of the fundraiser helped the brothers raise more money. 

“I thought it would be maybe a couple dozen people if we were very lucky, but it was everywhere,” he said. “A lot of people that I was following were posting it, so that was definitely a big surprise. I didn't think many people would do that.”

The brothers raised a little more than $36,000 for the Durham Food Bank, crushing their starting goal of $10,000. If circumstances allow, given the pandemic, they will treat the sisters of Kappa Kappa Gamma, the winners of the competition, to a brunch in the fall.

Pi Kappa Alpha: Shave and Buzz

In March, the brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha held their fifth annual Shave and Buzz, an event that honors fraternity brothers Bobby Menges and Mark Schreiber, online. Menges died from cancer in September 2017, and Schreiber, Trinity ‘19, is in remission from central nervous system germinoma.

Although participants shaved their heads over Instagram Live instead of in the Bryan Center Landing, the brothers raised $72,606, exceeding their original goal of $60,000.

Sigma Chi: Huntsman Cancer Foundation

Across the nation, brothers of Sigma Chi participated in a 5k to raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, one of their large philanthropy initiatives.

To raise money before the event, active members posted on their Instagram stories asking followers how much they could Venmo request them for donations. 

The chapter raised $354 for the foundation, according to sophomore Luke Schwartz, philanthropy chair for Sigma Chi at Duke. 

Sigma Phi Epsilon: Raj’s Memorial Scholarship 

In March, Duke announced the death of sophomore Raj Mehta. Mehta was an engineering major, a member of the Duke Dhamaka dance team and brother of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

“Following the passing of our beloved member Raj Mehta, SigEp wanted to do all we could to assist his family and honor his memory,” wrote Eli Gertler, sophomore and vice president of philanthropy for Sigma Phi Epsilon, in an email to The Chronicle.

After Duke Dhamaka began collecting donations for Raj’s memorial scholarship fund on Instagram, the brothers joined in on the effort. They posted on their Instagram stories asking their followers if they’d like to donate to the fund through Venmo.

According to Gertler, the fundraiser received an “incredible” response, and the brothers raised around $5,300 for Raj’s family and the scholarship fund.

“We are extremely grateful to everyone who donated, and we look forward to continuing our fundraising efforts when we are all back on campus together,” Gertler wrote.

Zeta Phi Beta: Rise Up: Fundraiser for Black Lives

Senior Destiny Mulero, president of the Zeta Phi Beta’s Nu Omicron chapter, wrote in an email that they were the “first chapter on Duke’s campus to stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Members of the sorority held a silent auction from March 16 to 23 to raise money for the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Bidders used Google Sheets to submit their bids for 19 products and services, and they were alerted when someone proposed a higher offer in order to fuel competition. 

To promote the auction, they collaborated with alumnae and other members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a group of historically Black sororities and fraternities, to film a video for their Instagram page about the killing of Black people in America. 

The chapter raised $2,647, well over their original goal of $1,000. They split the money between Arbery’s and Taylor’s GoFundMe pages.

Canceled events

Duke’s chapter of the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity couldn’t host their planned Walk for Wuhan event after Duke announced a policy that limited public events in an effort to promote social distancing.

The event participants would have walked or run however many laps they chose, with donors sponsoring them a certain sum of money for every lap they completed. According to sophomore Jason Lee, all donations would have gone to Give2Asia, which connects donors to charities and local nonprofits across Asia.

Similarly, the Alpha Alpha Chi chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity intended to participate in the Walk for Babies charity event in support of March of Dimes, a non-profit that works to improve the health of mothers and their babies.

“Since infant mortality in the U.S. disproportionately affects black and brown mothers, the chapter recognizes the value of what March of Dimes does,” junior and Chapter President John Modarres wrote in an email.

Even though Walk for Babies was cancelled, proceeds from other events this year would be donated to March of Dimes. 

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