When I got back on campus at the end of Orientation, the first thing I did was visit Caffiends, Victoria College’s student-run fair-trade café, located on the first floor of Old Vic, the college’s castle-like building. As always, stepping into the cozy room felt like going home in a way that no other place on campus quite managed to rival.
I had been volunteering there since September of my first year and became co-manager in my second. Like an anxious new mother, I darted in and out multiple times daily and checked my email every 20 minutes. It was a labour of love, and I felt more passion for my work there than I’d ever thought possible in a job. Although coordinating 140 volunteers’ schedules and lugging chocolate across the city on public transit certainly made for some late nights and early mornings, not a moment of the job went unappreciated.
Founded ten years ago on principles of sustainability, Caffiends is most known for its $1 fair-trade coffee and lack of disposable cups. Most of the products are vegan, fair-trade, or gluten-free, and all are priced under $4, which makes my purchases feel guilt-free and justifiable. In fact, the last three items on my credit card bill were all for Caffiends’s iced matcha lattes.
Since volunteer shifts only last an hour a week, I’ve been able to fit this into my schedule every year, which provides me with some much needed stability in the midst of a hectic schedule. Even during my busiest times of school, coming in for a shift and winding down with the best loose-leaf tea in the area managed to calm my mind better than anything. For that hour, it gave me something to focus on, to step away from the stress of academic work.
However, the part of Caffiends that makes it so special is the community. Even if you don’t get to meet all 100+ volunteers, you inevitably become friends with your few shift mates. As a deeply introverted first year, this was one of the only places on campus where I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Especially as a commuter, making friends was not easy, particularly in classes of hundreds. Here, in this welcoming space decorated with student-art and home to the comfiest couches on campus, I found my safe and happy place.
Though I’ve only been back at school for a couple weeks, I have tried to make as many stops by Caffiends as possible. Volunteer sign-ups are still open, meaning many new people are discovering the community (and the cheap coffee), just as I stumbled on it three years ago. To those students and faculty alike, I hope this little café will become as much of a home for you as it is for me.
Finding a sense of belonging at U of T can be really tough, but what I’ve loved about the size of the campus is the wealth of options available. Although I found my home at Caffiends, communities can spring up anywhere — at clubs, events, colleges, or faculties. U of T offers everything from a Dumbledore’s Army group to free Zumba classes. Take chances and try things out to find what feels like home for you.
All photos provided by Caffiends.