Two Georgetown students crowdsourced more than $17,000 for Stacey Walton, a food and service employee at Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall, amidst housing and food security concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Walton was struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic after Leo’s cut her hours and she was unable to get unemployment benefits, the two students, familiar with Walton and her situation, took matters into their own hands and started a GoFundMe to raise money to support Walton.
The students, Laissa Aw (NHS ‘22) and Dajourn Anuku (COL ‘22), first met Walton through routine visits and conversations that naturally flourished at Leo’s, where the two say the atmosphere is always warm and embracing.
However, in late October, Walton revealed to the pair that she was struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. From difficulties in purchasing basic goods to having to give up her dog Debo, Walton was facing a series of hurdles with little to no assistance from Aramark, the company that manages Leo’s.
The company’s COVID-19 protocols include access to TeleHealth and up to 21 days of guaranteed sick leave if there is a confirmed case, but the Employee Assistance Program’s limited benefits were not financially or emotionally supportive to Walton.
“Think about everything else that she’s dealing with. You’re a Black woman in a pandemic. You’re a Black woman dealing with all these barriers built up against you too, inside of such a workspace where those workers aren’t valued where they should be,” Anuku said in an interview with the Voice. “Aramark adds on to that kind of stress by not being a safe space financially and mentally as well.”
According to Aw, Leo’s workers are facing drastic hour cuts due to a new schedule of operations. “The work week is you work one week, off one week, so you’re making half of what you used to make,” Aw explained.
Other workers have experienced similar situations, Aw and Anuku said. They recalled a Leo’s worker who had lost their child who received community financial support several months prior. These seemingly localized incidents follow a strain of university contractors facing obstacles in collecting benefits and financial support.
Similarly, the university’s Redeploy Georgetown program, which temporarily transfers workers outside the scope of their normal duties to do tasks related to slowing the spread of COVID-19, requires Georgetown employees to make a difficult choice between unpaid leave and increased COVID-19 exposure in their new roles.
When the dining hall closed between Nov. 22 and the start of the spring semester on Jan. 25, the Aramark paychecks, which already barely met Walton’s financial needs, would stop for nearly two months, only adding to both Walton and the students’ concerns. Faced with Walton’s financial hardship, Aw and Anuku decided to take matters into their own hands.
The two established a GoFundMe early in December with the goal of raising, at most, $8,000 within two weeks. In under 48 hours, however, the GoFundMe collected over $15,000, according to Anuku. The GoFundMe had raised $17,305 as of Feb. 23.
Although Aw and Anuku were ecstatic, they quickly turned their attention towards helping Georgetown employees have security in the long-term. “This money is going to run out eventually. I want to make sure that [the essential workers] are good in the long term,” Aw said.
The two are hoping to work with GUSA to push for increased benefits and standardized hours for food service workers. Aw and Anuku stressed the necessity of including these essential workers in conversations surrounding support systems at Georgetown.
“We’re privileged enough to even be here, to be in these spaces, so let’s also have the [essential workers] on the forefront to tell their stories to say, ‘Okay, here’s the next step,’” Anuku said.