Mount students give back

Students volunteer their time to help the people who need it most.

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MSVU students Jessica, Katie and Rebecca took part in Caritas Day by collecting food donations for students in need (Photo: Erin Meagher).

When the opportunity arose for Jessica and Rebecca Skinner to devote their time to helping others on Mount Saint Vincent University's Caritas Day yesterday, they did not hesitate. After all, Caritas Day is all about giving back.

Jessica and Rebecca are second-year business students at the Mount. They are co-presidents of the Business and Tourism Society and both love to spend time helping those in need. They are not only sisters, but also identical twins.

They volunteered their time at the first annual Caritas Day event last year by going door-to-door in a nearby neighbourhood collecting food donations. They had so much success that they wanted to participate again this year.

"Last year was so much fun, we had a blast doing it," said Rebecca. "It was just a great opportunity both to volunteer and give back to the community."

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Twin sisters Jessica and Rebecca load their collected food donations into the car (Photo: Erin Meagher).

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Images from Caritas Day

What this day means to the Mount

Caritas Day has a long tradition at the Mount. It began in 1951 after a fire destroyed the only building on campus at the time. People in and around Halifax opened their doors to host students and lectures. The support from the community was so tremendous that the Sisters of Charity created Caritas Day.

This year marked the second annual organized Caritas Day event, although it has been a school holiday for many years. The term 'caritas' comes from the Latin word for charity.

"It's a day where the students are supposed to take time to give back to the community and reflect on the founding roots of the organization," said Peter Mombourquette, Chair of the department of business, tourism and hospitality.

"The Sisters of Charity founded the university and they were dedicated to helping others and giving back - so it gives students an opportunity to do the same," he said.

Surpassing success of last year

In recognition of Caritas Day last year, approximately 75 people volunteered their time to help those in need - whether it encompassed going door-to-door collecting food donations or helping the Sisters of Charity prepare food for the Out of the Cold homeless shelter.

This year, close to 200 volunteers showed up to Caritas Day. They not only collected food donations and prepared food for the homeless shelter, but also took part in a variety of workshops, including one that involved learning sign language.

Helping those who need it most

The non-perishable food items are given to the Mount's Food Resource Centre, which reaches out to students who cannot provide for themselves or their families.

Once the food bank is filled, the rest of the food is sent to Feed Nova Scotia.

Rebecca said that prior to last year she was not aware the Mount had its own food bank and it was mostly just faculty members who were donating.

Now that the Halifax community is involved, they are able to provide for more students.

"Obviously a lot more students than you would think use it, so it must mean a lot for them to come in and be able to ask for something," said Rebecca.

The Food Resource Centre is a confidential service where students can drop in and pick up whatever food they need to get them through the day.

The demand for the food service is consistent throughout the school year. An estimated 15 to 20 different students use it over the course of a month. The Mount has a total of 2,366 full-time students.

"A lot of students here need it, not just for themselves but also for their families," says Katie Hodges, a third-year business student. "There are a lot of single moms and they need things for them and their children."

Caritas Day hits closer to home for some students. Hodges experienced first hand what it's like not having enough food on the table as she went through tough financial times with her family a few years ago.

"I used the food bank myself when I was in first- year - when I was a freshman, and now I think it's awesome that I get the chance to give back and pay it forward," said Hodges.

She said that the best part of the day was seeing the reaction on people's faces, knowing that they are helping the less fortunate.

"People go door-to-door on a random day, at a random time to go get donations for people that they might not even know or ever come across but do it just because they like it," she said.

Jessica agrees, saying, "It's super rewarding when you're carrying those bags full of groceries back to the food bank. My arms are still shaking!"

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