Student food bank staff are beacons of hope and support for GBC student
Sometimes making ends meet forces people to make difficult choices, as anyone who’s had to pick between making rent or paying a bill is intimately familiar with.
A particularly challenging crossroads is whether someone wants to deal with the stigma that often comes with accepting charitable aid. But at the Student Association’s (SA) food bank at George Brown College (GBC), one client is pushing back against that stigma.
“Do I spend this, do I pay the rent, do I buy this food?” asked Richard Villavicencio, a fourth-semester business accounting student, considering the difficult decisions he and his family have faced.
“My kids, they are teenagers, they eat—a lot.”
Villavicencio, a recent immigrant from Mexico and father of two, faced more difficulties than most as he started his two-year program. Without a social support network and with the expenses of raising a family while being unemployed due to full-time studies—all while living with a disability—he found that the money he saved working back in Mexico City quickly ran out.
During a particularly difficult winter two years ago, Villavicencio began visiting food banks in the city, but said he found a type of judgement he didn’t expect: from food bank staff.
In his experience with other food banks, Villavicencio felt that food suitable for his kids had been withheld because he doesn’t look like he has needs.
At George Brown, Villavicencio explained, it’s a different story.
The staff at SA food banks didn’t assume he was taking advantage of them because he dressed well, and they took pains to learn about the particular needs of their clients.
The SA also funds The Dialog.
In Villavicencio’s case, the staff at the St. James food bank learned about his family and ensured he could receive sufficient support to help his family out as well.
Villavicencio was adamant that shame or stigma shouldn’t prevent people from using the SA’s food bank. “It’s hard to go there. So I encourage (people) to go there. The people are nice, they’re not going to judge you, they’ll try to help you.”
Above all, Villavicencio is thankful for the help he’s received, which is why he was glad to speak publicly about such a sensitive subject.
“It’s not easy to come here and say, ‘I’m using the food bank,’ right? But I like to recognize the work they’re doing, and say thanks to the staff at the food bank and also from all the departments.”
Villavicencio paused, choosing his words deliberately.
“Thanks for being respectful, understandable, and really, from the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate it and my family does as well.”