BU’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program tackles Covid relief with endowment

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Five community organizations providing front-line services and support during the Covid-19 pandemic are receiving grants from Brandon University’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program. Support grants have also been provided for students in the program as well.

The $2,000 grants are funded by the Margaret Laurence Endowment, which in previous years has typically been used for programming like speakers series that are impossible during the pandemic,

“The Gender and Women’s Studies program at BU is focused on social justice, and this year has been a very tough year for organizations doing critical social justice work right here in Westman,” said program co-ordinator Dr. Serena Petrella, who is also chair of BU’s Sociology department. “We knew we must do what we can to relieve just some of the financial pressures and added costs that the pandemic has imposed on non-for-profit groups.”

The GWS collective determined to focus on groups providing a range of services that help those most in need in the community, including newcomers, Indigenous people, survivors of intimate partner violence, people living with intellectual disabilities, and people who use substances.

The five organizations receiving funds are Migrante Manitoba, the Brandon Bear Clan Patrol, The Women’s Shelter, Inclusion Westman, and the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network.

“This grant has made it possible for me to purchase toques, mitts, neck warmers, socks, masks, hand and feet warmers and blankets for members of our vulnerable population, to help them keep safe and warm this winter season,” said Solange Machado, Coordinator at Manitoba Harm Reduction Network. “COVID and changing restrictions has made it even more challenging for people to access some of these items, therefore being able to provide people with these items has reduced some of these barriers.”

With additional funds from the endowment, the program also reached out to Gender and Women’s Studies students with the offer of individual grants of up to $500 in rapid relief.

“The social impacts of this pandemic hit hard, and as a program, we aim to support students who are struggling financially in this moment so they can continue their studies at Brandon University and, hopefully, relieve some stress,” Dr. Petrellla said. “This grant is to help pay for anything that will support you while you are a student at Brandon University. This includes groceries, rent, car payments, childcare, school supplies, internet bills, anything.”

The student grant, which was available to both majors and minors in the program, aimed to relieve stress and support learning.

“This is a wonderful gift that will relieve a lot of stress for students, especially as we are in the midst of the holiday season, where money is usually tight,” said Mandy Swidersky, a GWS student who received the grant and who used the money to help pay her January rent. “Living in Brandon full time has allowed me to access the services BU provides for students on campus, and it makes attending online classes much easier. I learned when I returned to my family home in rural southeast Manitoba, that our internet is less than ideal for video conferencing and staying connected.”

“The pandemic has made it more challenging to connect one-on-one, and these grants are just one form of support we can offer,” Dr. Petrella said. “We want to know more about the challenges our students have been facing, so we can help overcome them.”


About the Margaret Laurence Endowment Fund

The Margaret Laurence Endowment is named after the award-winning Canadian author born in Neepawa, Manitoba. A University of Winnipeg alumna, Laurence first started writing about women’s issues while living with her husband and two children in Somaliland. She continued to present women’s issues in her award-winning novels, including her best known works, The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, and The Diviners. Laurence died in 1987.

After her death the Canadian Federal Government provided seed funding and many community partners and university volunteers came together to raise matching funds, and the Margaret Laurence Endowment Fund was established in 1987.

Currently, three universities in Manitoba that offer programs addressing women’s issues and other forms of intersectional oppression, share the fruits of the endowment.


About the organizations receiving funding

Migrante Manitoba

Migrante Manitoba is a community organization that advocates for the rights and welfare of migrants. Migrante Manitoba will be using these funds to support migrant workers who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including temporary foreign workers who may be ineligible for other financial supports.

Bear Clan

The Brandon Bear Clan Patrol, a volunteer driven organization, has been patrolling in Brandon twice weekly since June 2, 2017. The purpose of the Bear Clan is to help people and prevent the need for police and authority interventions. The Bear Clan offers help, information, supplies and respect to all community members. The Bear Clan is a community-based solution to crime prevention, providing a sense of safety, solidarity, and belonging to both its members and to the community they serve.

Covid19 has found Bear Clan adjusting their weekly patrols from being physically patrolling on the streets to patrolling via vehicles to deliver supplies to our community members and maintaining our relationships. It is their intention to focus the funding towards ensuring they have a good supply of women hygiene products, assisting mothers in acquiring essential items for themselves and their children; getting women safely home in a taxi when there is a safety issue and it is requested. Funding will also help them keep their volunteers safe with supplies such as gloves, flashlights, and sanitizer.

The YMCA Westman Women’s shelter

The Brandon YWCA Westman Women’s Shelter is an emergency shelter offering a short-term safe and supportive environment for physically, emotionally or sexually abused women and their children 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. In addition to a safe environment the following services are offered:

  • Individual and Group Counselling for women and children
  • Crisis intervention and referrals
  • Support / information for medical, housing, financial, legal, and employment needs
  • Public Education Program

All Services are provided free of charge and are completely safe, private & confidential.

The YMCA Women’s shelter will be using these funds to purchase backpacks to give to women as they leave the shelter, providing some very basic needs (toiletries, towels, etc.).

Inclusion Westman

Inclusion Westman is a community based, not for profit organization committed to enriching the lives of those who live with intellectual disabilities. Use of Grant Specifics: They will use the funds in support of organizing events such as: Parent Advocacy and Advisory Committee Gatherings (Support, networking advocacy for families and caregivers (ongoing); Education and Wellness Meetings and Activities (Christmas Music Sing-A-Long, Wine and Whine, Yoga, Open House for IPSE, etc.); Inclusive Post Secondary Education Program at Brandon University; Family Gatherings in Person (pre-covid); Night of Inclusion Celebration (pre-covid); Accessibility Advocacy- Advocating to City of Brandon for Accessibility at Sportsplex; distribution of free COVID supplies (masks).

Brandon’s Harm Reduction Network

All of HRN sites are located on Indigenous land, specifically, on Anishinaabe, Ininew, Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota land and are also in the homeland of the Metis Nation. Their central office is in Treaty 1, and we have been invited to work in Treaty 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 territories. As a non-Indigenous organization they are committed to the principles of decolonization and reconciliation and are committed to integrating the TRC calls to action into their work.

The Manitoba Harm Reduction Network works toward equitable access, systemic change, and reducing the transmission STBBI through advocacy, policy work, education, research and relationships. They do this by administrating regional harm reduction networks that provide services, education, advocacy and events that are relevant to their specific communities. They do workshops, community projects, support organizations in creating or improving policy and services, and partner with peer-based organizations and groups of people who use drugs. They focus on harm reduction, access, community building, and the inclusion of people impacted by substance use in the services and decisions that affect them. They believe that harm reduction, equitable access and safer service delivery are important parts of supporting healthy communities.

These funds will be used to create winter emergency kits which are in high need in our community right now. Ideally the kits would include hats, mitts, socks, a scarf, blanket, hand/feet warmers, chapstick, hand lotion, facial tissue, toothbrush and toothpaste, matches, a backpack, a high protein snack and other most needed items, including small grocery gift cards.


Student testimonials

Angela Zagrodney

“I want to send you my deepest appreciation for the Covid-19 Rapid Relief Student Grant for Gender and Women’s Studies. I will be using my grant to afford a few textbooks I have had to go without this term as well as to pay my rent during my student teaching practicum. I have been working at my local hospital while learning remotely to begin chipping away at my student debt. This grant will allow me to work less hours and focus on my studies more. I feel proud to be a BU student knowing that LGBTQIA+ students are considered for a Covid-19 relief grant.”

Maria Garcia Manzano

“My name is Maria Garcia Manzano and I have received the $500 Covid-19 relief grant given by the Gender and Women’s Studies Collective. I would like to thank you personally for allowing this grant to happen. These funds will help me pay for living expenses and for that I am grateful. Again, thank you.”

Benjamin MacLeod

“I just wanted to reach out and thank you for the opportunity to receive this student grant. This pandemic has created a lot go financial stress as students such as myself who try and get by on casual work have been extremely limited if not unable to pick up shifts to help support themselves during the pandemic. I am a third-year psychiatric nursing student here at Brandon and these funds will be able to help me focus more on my studies instead of worrying about my financial obligations. I am so excited to get out into the field and help other members of the LGBTQ+ community access health care and promote mental and physical wellness which are often hard to access for individuals due to so many different factors.”


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