Holiday hamper program in full swing

The shape of education and student life is continuously changing over the course of the year, and students of all backgrounds have had to adjust and adapt to different academic circumstances and pandemic-influenced choices made by the province and the university. 

Students have been especially vocal in their financial concerns that stem from the university’s tuition increase. It was announced last spring that the 2020-21 academic year would see a tuition raise for undergraduate and graduate students by an average 3.75 per cent.  

Given the tuition increase, along with mandatory student fees, UMSU vice-presidents Tino Dogo and Savannah Szocs see it as no surprise that students would struggle with food insecurity or being empty handed during the holidays. 

“Obviously it’s a bit different this year with [COVID-19],” said Dogo, UMSU’s vice-president community engagement.  

In a typical year, Dogo explained, UMSU would collect the toys, food items and other donations that it receives from partners all across campus. Donations would then be sorted into hampers for different sizes of families. In a pre-pandemic holiday hamper program, organizers would try to match a donor with specific hamper to support a family. 

This year, UMSU has had to find a way to create the hampers with as little in-person contact as possible. 

For the pandemic, the program plans to use monetary donations to offer a gift card option for applicants. 

“We’ve been super fortunate this year to have an overwhelmingly large amount of monetary donations from our regular donors, lots of student groups and faculty offices and things like that,” said Szocs, vice-president student life.  

UMSU has seen a lot of the program’s regular donors increase their donations and other donors who “normally give physical food items” have given monetary donations instead. 

“I think they’ve all recognized that, since we’re in this different situation this year and there’s obviously going to be a lot more people who need these hampers.” 

According to Dogo, last year, pre-pandemic, they received about 150 applicants.  

“This year, unsurprisingly, the number has gone up.” 

As of Nov. 24, Dogo said the program has received about 180 applications, and he estimates that they may see around 200 applicants for the program this year. 

“We’re just really glad that we could figure out a way to keep it going during [COVID-19], especially because during these times are when people need it the most,” said Szocs. 

The holiday hamper program is taking applicants until the end of the day on Dec. 2.