Growing student charity group looks elsewhere for funding

Bianca Marryshow, second-year sociology student, and co-founder of RU Blessing Bags hopes to distribute supplies to the homeless. (Beza Getachew/Ryersonian Staff)

Bianca Marryshow, second-year sociology student, and co-founder of RU Blessing Bags, hopes to distribute supplies to the homeless. (Beza Getachew/Ryersonian Staff)

Bianca Marryshow didn’t expect that getting money from Ryerson to fund her initiative to help the homeless would be so difficult.

In September 2014, the second-year sociology student and her friend, Fariha Sheikh, started RU Blessing Bags. A new charity established to create care packages with necessities, such as warm socks and gloves, for homeless people on the frigid streets of downtown Toronto. When they launched their Facebook group they received an immediate online interest from other Ryerson students wanting to contribute. And after attracting almost 250 members, they decided to apply for Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts Student Project Grant to help buy items for the Blessing Bags.

“From September to late December we had a really terrible set back largely based on the fact that we applied for the (Faculty of Arts) Student Project Grants and we were waiting and waiting and waiting and then nothing came out of it,” says Marryshow.

The faculty of arts website says the grant is to help support “student-initiated extra-curricular projects and activities that promote experiential learning and student engagement.”

But in the rejection email the girls received at the end of last semester, RU Blessing Bags was described as an “unsustainable initiative.”

With no funding, Marryshow had to do some quick thinking. She took matters into her own hands and reached out to her high school friends and immediate family for small cash donations and gently used winter clothing. She eventually collected two large suitcases and a duffel bag filled with various winter goods, which she distributed to homeless people in downtown Toronto earlier this month.

When the aspiring social justice worker reached out to her community she didn’t know what to expect and was in awe of the generosity she received from everyone who contributed.

“It’s crazy, I actually thought getting donations from people would be more difficult,” she says. “Getting donations has been totally the easiest part of this entire initiative.”

Naeem Ordóñez, student life coordinator for the faculty of arts, administers the Student Project Grant and wouldn’t comment on Marryshow’s application but says that unsuccessful applicants are welcome to apply again.

“We don’t just say an absolute ‘no’ and wash our hands of the application,” Ordóñez says. “We look at the application process as a learning experience and provide support on ensuring future applications can be successful.”

The grant program has no set quota on how many initiatives they fund. This winter, 12 applications were received—eight of which met eligibility for funding and were reviewed.

RU Blessing Bags hopes to collect more donations to continue distributing blessing bags next month.

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