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Giving from the Heart

by Ira Lamcja

photography by Mike Ford

Glendon student Wilson Munoz remembers the moment his workplace closed in March. He was working behind the bar at Yorkdale mall’s Cheesecake Factory when Toronto Mayor John Tory (LLB ’78) announced restaurants across the city would have to close their doors to the public. 

Wilson’s first thought was of his finances. His mind racing, he ran through the list of expenses that had already started piling up: rent, tuition, groceries, car payments, dog food, credit card and more. 

Not long after, Wilson received an email from his managers notifying him of his cancelled shifts. He started to panic.

“I was reeling,” Wilson says as he recalls the stress of those first few days after lockdown began. “As much as I had tried to save, I am still a university student, and in the weeks before the pandemic, I had also lost a lot of my income from tips after diners stopped going out as much, so I hadn’t been able to really prepare for this.”

At a time when everything was so uncertain, this money eased my stress

But for Wilson, help came just when he needed it most. He felt hopeful after reading an email from York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton announcing the York University Emergency Bursary for students who needed urgent financial aid to cover the unexpected costs of the pandemic. 

“I was in such dire need that I applied within a few hours of seeing that email,” Wilson says. “And when I was approved to receive $1,500 toward my expenses, I was so grateful to York University and the community that made this happen. At a time when everything was so uncertain, this money eased my stress.”

The University has committed $2 million to the Emergency Bursary, and aid has been distributed to students since March, but their need for emergency relief has far surpassed expectations. Thousands of students applied for financial aid after incurring unexpected costs related to travel, emergency housing, food and other necessities. Countless students have also lost their part-time and summer jobs, internships, co-ops and other work they had lined up to pay for their university education.

The York community is rising to the challenge in a big way. 

Hundreds of York community members have rallied around our students, making donations to provide additional support to students through the York University Emergency COVID-19 Student Relief Fund. With support coming from alumni, donors, faculty, staff, the York University Alumni Board and members of York’s Board of Governors, over $450,000 has been raised to provide further support for students.

“I am incredibly proud of the way the students, staff, faculty, alumni and others have come together to support one another,” said President Lenton. “Even in these extraordinary and challenging times, York continues to show it is a caring community dedicated to the well-being and success of students. I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to our emergency bursaries.”

Lenton noted there is still much work to do to make sure no student falls behind. As we head into the fall, students will continue to need support. COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on students, and the generous support of our community can provide funding to help them complete their education.

Wilson knows first-hand how much the support of the York community has meant to students over the past few months. 

“Thank you to everyone from the bottom of my heart. This support means everything,” he says. “I am so grateful to everyone who has contributed. We really need it, and we’re really struggling. If you are able, please consider making a donation to help other students like me.”

Help other students access the financial relief they need by making a donation online: alumniandfriends.yorku.ca/give ■

 

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