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By Clare Fiala, Contributor
Nestled in a corner on the second floor of the McMaster University Student Centre, the cozy office that is home to the McMaster Ontario Public Interest Research Group can be easy for a rushing student to miss.
Despite financial cuts propagated by the Student Choice Initiative in September 2019, the grassroots student-run organization has continued to act as a hub for many social justice and environmental causes on campus. The McMaster Students Union referendum in March 2020 affirmed OPIRG’s place at McMaster University as 60.2% of respondents voted to keep the organization funded by maintaining its $5.50 optional fee. However, some students may not be fully aware of the organization’s important work, especially incoming first-years.
A major component of OPIRG’s activities is centered around Public Interest Projects, which aim to advocate and fundraise for a variety of different causes ranging from countering the “fast-fashion industry” to feeding the hungry and beyond.
Currently, OPIRG supports eight PIPs, all run by McMaster undergraduate students. Some projects have been around for several years while others are newer, such as Warm Soles, the PIP I co-founded this school year. Even though our PIPs are different in many ways, we all strive to affect change and advocate for an issue that we believe is relevant to McMaster students and the wider Hamilton area.
Warm Soles seeks to provide socks for people experiencing street homelessness in Hamilton. Surprisingly, 20% of medical issues among this population are foot conditions. Good quality socks protect the feet and help prevent these debilitating conditions, yet they are the least donated item to clothing banks. Thus, a simple item that we often take for granted could have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life.
With OPIRG’s support, Warm Soles set up sock donation boxes in the OPIRG office and the Arts and Science Program Offices, to collect new socks or cash donations (since most people don’t carry around brand new pairs of socks). All socks will be donated to the Good Shepherd, a large non-denominational shelter and social services organization in downtown Hamilton.
Among the types of equipment OPIRG provides their PIPs for free, OPIRG has two high-quality button makers of different sizes. Warm Soles employed this resource to make a variety of different buttons, which we sold to raise money in order to purchase socks for donation. The button-makers and associated materials are also available for other McMaster student groups to use for a small fee.
All OPIRG PIPs have innovative and unique ways of raising funds and awareness. However, disruptions imposed by COVID-19 have required another pivot. For example, Bleed Free, a PIP focused on ending stigma about menstruation, conducted their popular annual fundraising raffle online. OPIRG moved their public Annual General Meeting to virtual platforms and maintained an active social media page. Here, students can find helpful online resources for dealing with the pandemic, free webinars, and relevant updates about the causes supported by the group.
More than ever, in these difficult circumstances, there is a need for organizations that prioritize humanitarian and environmental wellbeing. I encourage all students to visit the OPIRG website to see what aspect of its mission interests them. Together, we can all play a little part towards a brighter world for McMaster students, Hamilton residents and beyond.