York comes to the aid of McMaster University students left homeless

When York’s Chantal Joy first received the call for help, she immediately sprang into action to recruit volunteers from York to give McMaster University students, affected by a recent residence fire, a hand moving into their temporary accommodations. She was thrilled when over 25 York students and staff answered the call on really short notice.

Some 580 McMaster University students had been without a home for a week after a suspicious fire at the university’s Brandon Hall residence Saturday, Oct. 18 had caused extensive damage to the second floor of the 11-storey building and its elevator. McMaster University needed help to move the students into hotel accommodations until the residence is fixed, but York had little time to organize volunteers. The call came late in the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 24 and volunteers were needed for the Sunday.

A planned don training session at York was cancelled and Tatham Hall Residence Life Coordinator Sarah Burley began asking the dons to volunteer to help at McMaster instead, while york is U Program Assistant Saba Rafiq put out a call to york is U members.

“It warmed my heart to see the response from our students,” said Joy, assistant director of residence life at the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. “They [McMaster] could not have done it without us, the actual moving; they didn’t have enough people.”

Above: Some of the students and staff from York University who volunteered to help McMaster University students move – Natasha Mills (back left), Laura Lookenbill, Justin Nanu, Nick Ebel, Josh Paquin, Aneesha Lewis, Saad Khan, Sarah Tietrkiewcz, Melanie Chai, Jimi Bursaw (front left), Irfan Kara, Dimple Savla, Michael O’Reilly, Russell Pahl, Andrea Fisher, Huda Masood, Donna Webster, Jessica Oelkel and Chantal Joy

York students, residence dons, residence life coordinators, york is U members and staff volunteered to spend their Sunday afternoon and evening helping students from a different university move into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamilton. “It’s lovely to see students caring that much about people they don’t even know,” says Joy. “Their kindness and show of leadership was inspiring.” The bus carrying York’s volunteers and sponsored by York’s Residence Life, left the Keele campus at 12:45pm and didn’t return until after 8pm. It was a long day of hauling boxes.

"I volunteered because, from one student living in residence to another, I felt like it was important to offer some support and try to help ease the transition from their old home to a new one," says York student Aneesha Lewis.

These volunteers helped direct students and their parents, provided them with welcome kits and assisted them with moving their belongings from their car to their new rooms. "They enthusiastically climbed the stairs with arms full of boxes, offered the Brandon Hall students a warm welcome, answered parents’ questions and did whatever else was needed to make the day run smoothly and ensure the students got a positive new start,” says Joy.

Left: York student and Stong College Residence Don Brendon Best volunteers to haul boxes into a hotel room for displaced McMaster University students

The York contingency helped some 120 students get settled into their temporary rooms that day. One of those students had stayed at four different places in the week since the fire and was still having to write his midterm exams. He was definitely feeling the extent of the disruption.

Students from the University of Guelph and Brock University also came to help. “Parents were often surprised to hear we were from York and touched to know other schools had cared enough to come and help,” says Joy. “More than once I was reminded by a McMaster staff person how very much they appreciated us being there, how much of a difference the volunteers were making and how they simply could not have done it without us.”

McMaster’s Brandon Hall houses mainly first-year students and is the largest residence on campus. Until the displaced students were moved into local hotel rooms, an emergency evacuation centre run by the Red Cross housed those unable to find accommodations elsewhere. Four students were injured in the early morning fire – three suffered smoke inhalation and were taken to hospital.

Hamilton Police have arrested a 19-year-old McMaster University student and Brandon Hall resident in connection with the fire.