On Sept. 11, a small group of volunteers from the Community Service Office prepared and served a meal for the homeless men residing at the Victory House. On such a sad, memorable day, it seemed extremely fitting to visit a shelter that serves local homeless men and homeless veterans.
The Victory House resides at 314 Fillmore St. and has been serving the Lehigh Valley for 25 years, providing both food and shelter for more than 3,500 men in that time. They have had a substantial and lasting impact upon the men they serve, with 40 to 45 percent of their clients continuing on to independent living arrangements, 50 to 60 percent finding secure employment and 75 to 80 percent remaining drug- and alcohol-free.
Ceara Tomaino, ’17, and Sophia Wagner, ’15, work for the CSO as student coordinators. They led the volunteers on their trip to the Victory House.
Many students around campus may be unaware that the Community Service Office takes trips to the site every two weeks and the opportunity to attend is always open.
Wagner described the Victory House as “not just a homeless shelter. It teaches the men skills to benefit themselves and society.”
Tomaino explained that the Victory House is currently at full capacity and has a waiting list. This can be seen as a positive, knowing the maximum need in the area is being filled, but is also unfortunate in that there are still people who need assistance. The need for more volunteers has also grown.
Sebastian Rodriguez, ’17, a volunteer who attended the trip, said he enjoys going to the Victory House and has previously visited with the Community Service Office.
He explained this trip was his first of the year and said he was excited to return. Amanda Donohue, ’15, another volunteer, explained how she is part of Alpha Phi Omega, a community service fraternity active on campus. She has volunteered for the Victory House before with Alpha Phi Omega, but this was the first time she accompanied the CSO.
When preparing for a trip to the Victory House, the CSO first must decide what to prepare for the men. Their coordinators had decided to make breakfast for dinner for this particular trip’s meal. They purchased eggs, sausage, hash browns and pancake mix.
Tomaino explained that the CSO tries to provide the largest possible meal within their allocated budget whenever they visit. They believed breakfast for dinner would do just that.
The CSO provides around three opportunities a week to serve the local community, and many organizations around campus participate. These opportunities range from volunteering with Parents’ Night Out for local parents, blood drives and class tutoring for local schoolchildren. There are also many organizations on campus that participate in these opportunities. These include Greek organizations, Live.Learn.Serve and the Community Service Office, to name just a few.
Once the volunteers of the Victory House finished preparing the meal, they put it into a serving pan and lined up. Serving spoons in hand, they were ready to fill the plates for the incoming men. As they passed the plates down the line, every single man they interacted with seemed to have a huge smile on his face. They were told, “It smells delicious”, and “Oh! Breakfast for dinner is my favorite!” over and over again. And after passing off each plate, they were met with a warm “thank you.”
It is organizations like the Victory House that provide hope for those who struggle in the Lehigh Valley. It often takes a volunteering opportunity to make one realize the obligation they have to serve as a part of the Bethlehem community.
As the volunteer group left the Victory House, Tomanio and Wagner asked each volunteer to each state the high and low points of their experiences. Collectively, everyone’s high was seeing how genuinely appreciative the men were for staying at the Victory House and how by just serving them a warm meal, they showed true kindness. Their low was the heat of cooking in the kitchen, which says a lot about the overall positive nature of the experience at the Victory House. For the members of the CSO, in order to produce a thriving Lehigh community, it is important to help the Bethlehem community thrive, as well.
To find out more information about volunteering on campus, look for the CSO’s post in the Lehigh daily announcements.