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Students impacted by COVID-19 find financial help through VCC

Posted on April 29, 2020

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Pictured: Evan Look, VCC culinary arts student in Professional Cook 1


Vancouver Community College (VCC) Practical Nursing students Dona Pathirana and her husband, Jay, knew things were getting desperate when they were only eating bread for their daily meals.

Both found some relief after receiving financial assistance through VCC’s COVID-19 Emergency Bursary Fund, which has helped them care for their two-year-old child and Jay’s visiting parents, all of whom are temporarily living together in a one-bedroom apartment. 

“My in-laws visited us and they are stuck here due to the COVID-19 travel policies in Sri Lanka,” says Dona. “My family is going through a really hard time these days and your fund is such a big help.” 

Dona and Jay are now attending classes online. Due to the closure of public libraries, they study in the hallway of their apartment building — one studies while the other takes care of their son inside. Jay works night shifts, but his work hours have been cut back due to the pandemic.  

“Honestly, we eat bread and jam for all three meals sometimes. With the funding, I bought three months’ worth of baby food for my son. There are not enough words to say ‘thanks’ to you and the donors,” says Dona. 

Dona is among 312 domestic and international students who recently received bursaries from $195,000 in funding made possible through the provincial government, VCC, its various student and employee unions, and the VCC Foundation.

Keeping opportunity a reality

Evan Look, a musician and aspiring chef, was working part-time at Chambar Restaurant in Downtown Vancouver and was on his way to completing VCC’s Professional Cook 1 program when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

In a matter of days, both his access to professional culinary kitchens and his source of income disappeared. Evan is one of 28 culinary students who received emergency funding from VCC.

“Suddenly, life takes a complete 360-degree turn on you, you have no money, and worst of all, you can’t even hang out with your friends,” says Evan, who is continuing his studies online. 

Evan also offers encouragement to his fellow students. “Don’t quit because of something you can’t control,” he says. “VCC made an opportunity a reality for me, and I ask my fellow VCC students and staff to rally around each other during these times to finish what we started!”

The bursaries have also helped 110 of VCC’s international students, many of whom are unable to return home due to travel restrictions.

Jenny Banaga was laid off from work while in her last month of studies in the Administrative Assistant program.

“Being away from home and family, there was a lot uncertainty that came from with the quarantine. This grant has given me peace of mind in these trying times,” she says. “I hope one day I will be able to pay it forward to other students just as you have helped me.” 

The time to give is now

In all, 312 students from 40 VCC programs received COVID-19 emergency bursaries, but these represent less than half those who applied for assistance. To try to meet this overwhelming need, VCC Foundation has kicked off a second fundraising campaign with the goal to raise an additional $50,000.

This will also coincide with Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity inspired by the exceptional need caused by COVID-19. 

Giving Tuesday Now will take place on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. To double our community’s generosity VCC Foundation will match the first $20,000 received in donations before Sunday, May 31, 2020. 

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“Never has the need been so great for students,” says VCC Foundation Director Nancy Nesbitt. “We recognize that these are difficult times for all of us, but it is uplifting to hear back from bursary recipients that they have made the leap to online learning and are weathering the storm.” 

If you have the means to help students like Hashini, Evan, and Jenny, please do.


To donate, visit the VCC Foundation donation page and select the COVID-19 Emergency Bursary Fund. Bursaries will be distributed via VCC’s need-based application process. Thank you for anything you can give.