COVID-19 Response

TEAM of Support

OU faculty create new initiative to aid community members

Two Oakland University employees standing next to boxes with masks on

Dustin McClellan, founder and CEO of Pontiac Community Foundation (left), and Jennifer Lucarelli, associate professor and chair of interdisciplinary health sciences at Oakland University (right), work together to load boxes of food to distribute from the Oakland Center.

Woman wearing mask and putting food in boxes

Oakland University President Pescovitz lends a hand to help the TEAM by load distribution boxes with canned goods.

Boxes of food stacked along wall in building

The Oakland University Oakland Center is converted to a food distribution center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community Engagement

icon of a calendarApril 6, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Titus

Share this story

During this time of social disruption, there are communities in dire need of a helping hand. In response to Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order, Oakland University leadership found that immediate community aid was crucial, prompting the creation of The Engagement And Mobilization (TEAM) group. Working in conjunction with state, county and local agencies, TEAM supports the delivery of services to those in need of health care, food, housing, daycare and social support, among other imminent needs.

Leading the TEAM charge is Jennifer Lucarelli, Ph.D., OU interdisciplinary health sciences professor. “The first few days have successfully connected people with food resources utilizing an online needs and volunteer registry system,” she says. “Now we are expanding to meet the diversity of needs, including providing social support for those experiencing social isolation and offering educational materials to families who are now homeschooling for the first time.”

Call for volunteers | In order to provide support for those in need, OU asked for volunteers and was answered with a mixture of students, staff and alumni, including Lowry student-workers registered as child care providers to help families with essential workers.

Book donations | Shannan McNair, associate professor of human development and child study, gathered and distributed more than 1,000 books to local churches, learning centers and homeless shelters.

Mask development | The School of Music, Theatre and Dance, as well as local organizations, are sewing masks for distribution to Beaumont Health, Oakland County Sheriff's Office, food delivery workers and in-home caregivers.

Virtual tutoring | The university is identifying best practices for virtual work and implementing tutoring programs for Pontiac elementary schools and local youth assistance organizations.

Food distribution | With food insecurities being a top concern for TEAM, they are using the university’s Oakland Center as the hub for a collaborative food distribution network, delivering food to those without transportation or in isolation, as well as coordinating with local community and school food programs to identify gaps in the emergency food system.  

Check-in calls | Maria Beam, LMSW, Ph.D., director of the university’s social work program, is providing relief for social isolation, making calls to senior citizens who are shut in at retirement communities.

Translation services | Associate Professor of Spanish Cecilia Saenz Roby and her independent study students are translating documents for the Hispanic Outreach Center.  

Box with food

Lighthouse, a Pontiac-based nonprofit dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty, Oakland University and Pontiac Community Foundation has also joined forces in a collaborative effort with several other agencies to expand emergency food distribution to Oakland County residents in need during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis, fueled by a new $300,000 grant from United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

“While these are difficult and anxious days, we are inspired by the efforts of Lighthouse and the many others working tirelessly to serve individuals, families and children in our community,” said Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz. “In times of need, we are coming together, sharing university resources and consolidating efforts in the true spirit of community.”

The emergency food packaging and storage operation was moved to Oakland Center on OU’s campus in Rochester to meet the increasing need and to ensure the continued health and safety of volunteers. Lighthouse recently purchased 13,000 pounds of food to distribute and quickly needed to replenish those supplies. The most recent purchase of 27,000 pounds of food from Meijer on April 1 filled two Gardner-White trucks. Lighthouse will receive $10,000 in additional donated food from Meijer.

The Oakland Center is the epicenter of the packing effort. Home delivery is now being coordinated so that households, including seniors, at-risk populations, and those without transportation, can receive food and supplies while remaining at home. 

Visit to find out how you can help. 

Share this story