Students get creative to support University Park businesses during pandemic

USC Marshall seniors put their entrepreneurial mindset to work, creating and selling T-shirts to raise money for student favorites like Caveman Kitchen, El Huero and more.

April 01, 2020 Julie Tilsner

For USC seniors Claire Monro and Claire Fisher, college means much more than going to class. It’s about the shared experiences and neighborhood hangouts that bind all USC students, from local dives to mom-and-pop shops.

That’s why the pair took the applied entrepreneurial mindset they’ve honed at the USC Marshall School of Business to help local small businesses affected by the economic slowdown caused by coronavirus health measures. Knowing the stores and restaurants are hurting, they’re raising money for them by creating and selling T-shirts.

A very USC story

Monro and Fisher are sisters in the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. As graduating seniors, they were looking forward to all of the traditional milestones of their final spring semester — the last college class, that final walk through campus. They were eager to spend the last few weeks with friends before everyone moved on to the next chapter of their lives.

They were looking forward to the culmination of commencement, before an audience of their family and friends. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. USC closed its campuses and took its classes online to follow the state’s stay-at-home order and protect student, faculty and staff health.

“Most of the girls in our house were from the East Coast,” Monro said. “So they all just moved back home.”

They were among the last ones left at their house, a Victorian built in 1891 known as “The Blue House.” The remaining students on campus were uneasy, but the two Marshall students kept upbeat. Before they left USC for Monro’s parents’ home in Camarillo, they hung a sign in their window. Its message: “No Matter What We Fight On.”

usc during covid
Seniors Claire Monro and Claire Fisher left a message outside their house before leaving USC due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo/Courtesy of Claire Monro)

Then they got good news: USC postponed commencement but didn’t eliminate it. “A lot of schools canceled their commencements altogether,” Monro said. “As seniors, we are so grateful that USC only postponed it.”

That got them thinking.

USC students consider local businesses in need

The university had listened to the students and supported them in these unprecedented times, they thought. What could the two young women do, then, to support a community that depended economically on the University Park Campus?

They thought about local businesses. “We wanted to help support Three Brothers Bikes, a small family-run shop that caters to students, Caveman Kitchen and El Huero [also known as Chanos], where all USC students go for a late-night food run,” Monro said. “Generations of Trojans know and love places like these, and they depend on the student population.”

They did what college students do so well: They created a souvenir T-shirt. Proceeds from sales of the shirts go directly to these businesses.

Their T-shirt, which comes in black and white, sums up the situation: On the front, a logo reads “Fight On…line.” The back features an open laptop with a victory sign on its screen, with a line underneath that reads “Spring Semester 2020.”

USC president backs local business fundraiser

They put word of the fundraiser out to their social media followers, selling the shirts through an online fundraising platform. The Trojan Family responded immediately. Orders were brisk.

Then they cold-emailed President Carol L. Folt to see if they could garner her support. They got it — and more.

“President Folt wrote back to us within the hour,” Fisher said. “She was so responsive and supportive. She was just amazing.”

“In times like this you really see what the Trojan Family is made of,” Monro said.

Online sales run through April 5, and T-shirts are scheduled to ship April 13. Folt asked the USC Bookstore to stock the T-shirts as well, and they’re expected to be available in the next few weeks.

As their senior year winds down, both students are feeling more connected to the Trojan Family than ever.

“Although our time as students is coming to a close, this experience has shown us that our time as members of the Trojan Family is only just beginning,” Monro said. “Fight On forever!”