The Gift of Community Support

The Della Pietra Family

Stephen Della Pietra and wife Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, Photo courtesy the Della Pietra Family

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded earlier this year, it was clear that the threat to Suffolk County required the expertise of Stony Brook’s medical staff and specialists. The entire University mobilized, coming together to care for and save as many lives as quickly as possible. What wasn’t expected was the immediate and insistent calls and emails from Stony Brook alumni and friends, all asking, “What can I do to help?”

Longtime friends of Stony Brook University, the Della Pietra family, came up with a solution: a $250,000 challenge grant to raise funds from neighbors, friends and family to provide state-of-the-art care for patients, to protect healthcare workers and to better understand this novel disease.

“We were astounded by how quickly Pam, Stephen, Vincent and Barbara reached out to us during a time of immense crisis,” said Deborah Lowen-Klein, interim vice president of Advancement. “When they offered a $250,000 fundraising challenge, it was incredibly generous and also a brilliant way for all of our friends to make a difference.”

Remarkably, the crowdfunding project met its goal in less than a week, prompting the Della Pietra family to pledge an additional $250,000 in matching funds. That inspired the Clarkson and Heintzelman families to extend the challenge with an additional pledge of $250,000. This generosity ignited a groundswell of support that resulted in more than $6.3 million in pledges in just three weeks from 2,500-plus alumni, students, faculty and staff, longtime friends and first-time donors.

“A tremendous number of the gifts to the Hospital were $100 or less,” said Richard Gelfond ’76, Hon. ’04, chair of the Stony Brook Foundation. “To me, that says that in a time of extraordinary challenge, people who were struggling themselves looked beyond their own difficulties and gave anything they could to help our Hospital and our patients. I find that incredibly inspiring.”

And help they did. Community support enabled funding of essential personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, an oxygen tank farm that significantly expanded the Hospital’s reserve, additional ventilators and a number of clinical trials and research projects that will advance what we know and how best to respond to novel viruses well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

To many of the healthcare workers at Stony Brook University Hospital, who were facing the greatest challenge of their professional lives, the community support went far beyond those investments. Knowing their community was behind them kept them going through some of the darkest times.

“It’s difficult for me to put into words just how much the community support meant to us,” said Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine. “Not only did the challenge help us acquire critical supplies and support innovative research, but — perhaps just as important — it also did so much to lift the spirits of the Hospital staff. It helped them stay #StonyBrookStrong.”

Helping Students in Crisis

The economic fallout from the pandemic had a significant impact on Stony Brook University’s students, making it difficult for many of them to remain in school and on track to graduate. With residence halls closed and classes moving online, many students lost much-needed income from their on-campus jobs, while others had to return to difficult housing situations where they lacked access to adequate technological resources to finish their studies.

Vincent Della Pietra and wife Barbara Amonson,

Vincent Della Pietra and wife Barbara Amonson, Photo courtesy the Della Pietra Family

Once again, the community came together by donating to the Student Emergency Support Fund, established by Rick Gatteau, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. Nearly $1 million in emergency aid has been disbursed from the Fund, including $100,000 in matching dollars from the Stony Brook Foundation; $10,000 from Fotis Sotiropoulos, Stony Brook’s interim provost; and $5,000 from the SBU Alumni Association. This emergency aid will continue to be a crucial lifeline for Stony Brook’s most at-risk students.

“The community’s support for our students is more critical now than it’s ever been,” said Gatteau. “A vast number of our students come from economically disadvantaged families, and the effects of the pandemic continue to be absolutely devastating to them. For these students, Stony Brook is their chance to build a future, to accomplish their dreams. This crisis has threatened to derail those dreams and put their futures at great risk. But thanks to this tremendous outpouring of support, we’re able to give them the tools they need to stay on track, continue their education and look ahead with confidence and hope.”

One Stony Brook graduating senior, whose father passed away during the pandemic, faced tremendous challenges. In the midst of the crisis, she was left not only mourning the loss of her father, but also grappling with the loss of her family’s income. Out of necessity, the student’s priorities shifted from getting her bachelor’s degree in health sciences to keeping her family safe and well.

“When receiving help seemed to be impossible, the Stony Brook emergency fund delivered a helping hand to my family and me,” she said. “I was able to graduate on time, and now I’m planning on attending graduate school for public health next year. None of that would have happened without the support from the emergency fund.”

To date, the fund has helped 1,129 students with emergency dollars, as well as Wi-Fi connectors, books, laptops and other materials they need to continue their education. And as students returned to a much different learning experience earlier this semester, there is still a need to replenish the fund to help Stony Brook’s most vulnerable scholars stay in school and on track to graduate.

The Student Emergency Support Fund is an invaluable source of support for our students. To find out more about the fund or to donate, visit