Student associations are helping out during corona crisis

Godelieve Wijer, links, en Janneke Keijer, rechts.

“We’ve got no fewer than 25 cakes for you today,” says the rector of student association Unitas, Godelieve de Wijer, in the Altrecht parking in Zeist. Together with fellow board member Janneke Keijer, she’s driven to the organisation for mental health care with a car filled with cake. It’s a large complex, comprised of multiple buildings, on the outskirts of the city of Zeist. The streets have names, like Wenshoek (Wishing corner) and Levenspad (Life path). This Wednesday, the patients in the clinic for geriatric psychiatry are treated to cake.

The cakes aren’t from the supermarket – they were baked by Unitas members for the Weekly Challenge of the Red Cross Student Desk. Under the banner of ‘Heel Unitas Bakt’ (All of Unitas Bakes, a play on the Dutch version of The Great British Bake Off, ed.), between thirty and forty students spent time in the kitchen to create these delicacies.

You see what it does to the patients

“It’s fantastic to see what students are doing for our patients,” says Gerrie Bres, communications advisor for Altrecht, who’s present at the cake delivery. “The patients and employees really feel heard and seen when others do something like this for them. And that’s important, because in general, there’s not enough attention for people with mental issues during this corona crisis.” The patients get to enjoy the cakes that very day.

Gerrie Bres (on the right), communications advisor at Altrecht

Later that afternoon, the two Unitas board members also stop by the Willem Arntsz House in Utrecht – another Altrecht location. Here, patients with acute psychiatric issues (among other things) are treated. Here, too, the cakes are very welcome, Bres says. “If it were up to us, I’d say this won’t be the end of this one action. You see what it does to the patients, and that makes it worth it for us to do more of these activities.” Altrecht is now collaborating with the Red Cross to see whether it’s possible to organise this type of activity more often.

‘Heel Unitas Bakt’ was a response from Unitas to the challenge posed by the Red Cross student desk. Since April, the Red Cross has been organising ‘Weekly Challenges’. The Red Cross asks student associations whether they want to participate. Previously, for example, UVSV members baked cakes for a home for the elderly, and members of Triton were asked to go grocery shopping for the food bank. The weekly challenges are posted on the Instagram and Facebook pages of the Red Cross student desk. One of the volunteers of the student desk is Marrit Buruma, student of Business Administration. She works as treasurer. “Sometimes, associations come up with their own ideas. That’s great for us, because it leads to some extraordinary initiatives.”

Marrit Buruma

The action was met with a lot of enthusiasm

Unitas isn’t the only association that’s working to help others in times of corona – not by far. Veritas, too, is doing its best. “Our members are young and healthy and that makes them suitable for helping people who aren’t doing as well,” says Veritas president Daniël Koolen. The veritas members email asks every week whether students would like to help with one of their numerous activities. “Grocery shopping for elderly people, for instance, who can’t go out because of the coronavirus,” says Koolen. Student associations have the responsibility of doing something useful for society, he thinks.

To that end, Veritas has set up a committee of Social Initiative, that tries to help people who are struggling. A number of initiatives that had been planned had to be cancelled. “Because of the corona crisis, we had to stop and think about what we as committee could do for others in these special times,” says committee member Marloes Rigter.

Marloes and her fellow committee member Christa Brussee came up with the idea of collecting food to deliver to food banks. Veritas homes were asked to donate food if they could. The operation was a success, Marloes says. “25 homes participated. I’m proud of how many members ended up helping with this, and of the amount of enthusiasm we saw in the responses to this act.”

Bringing light to dark times

Students of the Navigators are helping others as well. “We want to bring some light in these dark times. Many of our members feel responsible for each other and for our fellow city residents,” says Juliëtte van de Beld, board member of the Christian student association.

Navigator and student of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Tobias Kalkman, recently joined up with his housemates to help a man move to a new house. “It was quite the ordeal. There was so much junk in the house. He could definitely use a helping hand. First, we helped him clean up. Then, we moved all his stuff.”

“The man provided us with gloves and face masks, and we worked together at a safe distance from each other – him outside, us inside, for instance. There was also plenty of hand sanitiser. The contact started out a little stilted, but the more we got to know each other during the move, the nicer the contact became.” It went so well, that Tobias still talks to the man. “I left him my number; if he ever needs more help, I’m willing to go help him.”

The initiative for assistance for people moving to a different house came from the organisation Serve the city, who contacted the Navigators. Board member Juliëtte: “At the Navigators, we try to distribute the initiatives – that sometimes come from different organisations – amongst our members. You can tell how much our members like this, and of course, that only encourages us to start these types of activities more often.”

Tobias was very satisfied with his job: “It was a real eye opener. I’m truly seeing now how much you get in return when you’re doing volunteer work.”