By Eve DeLavergne
Whether you’re a single parent, living on your own, or simply living on a tight budget, you might have come across this hard truth: being a student and managing your finances is a tough job. With the costs of housing continuing to rise towards less-than-favourable standards in Montreal, on top of monthly OPUS passes, phone bills, internet bills, and much more, making sure that everything is accounted for can be extremely stressful for many. One of the biggest anxieties that low-income students have, however, is one that is dependant on one of our basic needs for survival: wondering whether or not we’ll be able to eat today.
Eating enough food is not only important for our bodies, but for our brains. Hunger can directly impact our concentration, thinking abilities, and energy levels. Many students continue to attend classes on an empty stomach, whether they want to or not. This is why Dawson has developed projects, such as the Financial Aid office’s food bank and the Dawson Student Union’s Dawson Dinin’, to ensure food security for its community. This year, demand for these services has grown exponentially, and during the most recent Peace Week, a noticeable shift towards providing free food for the Dawson community sought to answer these demands.
Thanks to the Peace Centre, this semester’s Peace Week featured two major food security projects: The Giving Tree, a tree-shaped shelving unit placed outside of the cafeteria entrance where anyone could donate non-perishable items for Financial Aid’s food bank, and the DSU’s Dawson Dinin’ lunches all week long. Staff and faculty volunteers worked with members of the student union for the second year in a row to ensure that everybody could benefit from these free lunches. Diana Rice, Dawson’s Coordinator of Peace Studies, pushed for the return of the week-long Dawson Dinin’ project: “it worked really well last year; the volunteers totally enjoyed themselves, so I wanted to do it again this year, because it’s a concrete way to give back to the community and give students and faculty something that’s healthy and free. They don’t have to worry about where lunch is coming from, or if their class runs over lunchtime, and to be able to do more than just grabbing a coffee and a bagel.”
"Any student is eligible to use the food bank once every two weeks, with only a quick sign-up required. They never ask for proof of income and costs of living, in order to keep the service as simple as possible."
Rice explains that the Peace Centre is focusing on students’ lives outside of class. “Our number one priority is always the students and giving them the best service we can, which does not always mean academics. It’s also important to have initiatives that get at the day-to-day lives of people,” she says. Not everyone at Dawson leads equal lives and, sometimes, being able to eat is a privilege rather than a given. “It’s important that we offer services that try to give folks that have more barriers in their lives more equity,” says Rice. “We try to bridge the gap a little.”
Food security at Dawson is not exclusive to Peace Week. At the Financial Aid office, situated in room 4E.2, students are able to get free food on-the-go at the snack centre, available every day for any student, or stock up their pantry at the food bank. Any student is eligible to use the food bank once every two weeks, with only a quick sign-up required. They never ask for proof of income and costs of living, in order to keep the service as simple as possible. Best of all, using the food bank is confidential and located in a non-judgmental space, so there is no shame in asking for help.
Yvonne Dudley is Dawson’s Financial Aid Officer and is in charge of the food bank. Her job is not only to help students with loans and bursaries but to address students’ anxieties about the costs of living and staying fed. The food bank is one of those ways of addressing these anxieties. “It’s to help them through hard times,” Dudley says. Last semester, about 130 students signed up, and this semester, the number of students needing the service is expected to grow. “This semester—one month in—we’re pretty much there, so it's going to be much greater this year than last year,” predicts Dudley. Reflecting on why this is, she blames it on “the cost of housing. It’s just becoming very difficult to afford housing in the city, and loans and bursaries don’t cover all students’ basic costs.”
When it comes to sourcing food for these services, Dawson relies on the generosity of students, faculty and staff. One notable source of donations comes from the students of the Anthropology department. Maciej Domanski, one of the department’s teachers, shared that, with a little help from extra credit incentives, his students are encouraged to donate non-perishable food and hygiene items to the food bank, mainly at the end of the semester. Incentive or not, internal support has allowed Dawson to give back to its community for years, and it will continue to do so thanks to our efforts.