KALAMAZOO, Mich. — In April, Michael Famiano began collecting canned goods and other foods for international students stuck on campus at Western Michigan University due to the pandemic.
He’d store the foods in his garage at his home in Portage and then drive to campus weekly to give it away to them for free.
Now Famiano, who’s a physics professor at WMU, is helping them in another way.
“We’ve grown significantly since we’ve started. We’re a far cry from handing out cookies out of the back of my car,” Famiano said during an interview with FOX 17 Friday morning. “We’ve passed out close to 8,000 bags of groceries now. And since then we’ve also managed to start paying rent for students.”
Famiano said they’ve paid rent for over 200 students. Some students they’ve helped multiple times. In total, he’s raised $200,000 after receiving donations from citizens and businesses.
“It’s been nothing but gratitude mixed with desperation,” Famiano said about the students’ reaction. “As you can imagine these students have no jobs. They are legally prohibited from working. They can’t get flights home. Travel is very expensive and very restricted now. And, they’re looking to us as kind of a lifeline.”
Famiano said they’re open to helping domestic students but they’re mainly focused on international students. There’s 1700 of them on campus and an income has been hard to come by.
“Evictions just started yesterday,” he said. “In fact we dealt yesterday with several evictions. They were apartments that, much to their discredit, have been waiting to pounce on the evictions just for being a couple days late.”
Some landlords have been helpful to their student tenants, Famiano said. However, it’s not enough.
“Living alone can be stressful on its own,” said Shejal Soumen, who’s pursuing her PHD in biology sciences. “And, coming to these financial problems can be the icing on the cake.”
She said calling her parents in her native India isn’t an option. They’re experiencing the same struggles and she doesn't want to burden them considering the COVID-19 pandemic is peaking there.
So, Soumen’s determined to tackle her problems on her own and she’s grateful Famiano’s fundraiser has paid her rent for three months, she said.
“They have been helping 400 of us international students,” Soumen said who’s also gotten groceries from Famiano’s efforts. “If I had to describe in a few words it would be like a blessing in disguise.”
Famiano said he’s happy to help the students. He views them as friends and is grateful for everyone who’s pitched into help pay their rent.
“It’s one of those things that you can’t sleep at night knowing that people are suffering,” Famiano said. “We’ve got a team of about 100 volunteers who are helping us. They’ve all got their own reasons. Me, personally, it’s hard to know there’s people out there who could be homeless tomorrow.”
***If you’d like to learn more about the fundraiser or contribute to it, click here.***