Students and staff from the University of Utah were given a small taste of life for the homeless Wednesday night at the St. Vincent's De Paul soup kitchen and were asked by U. President Chase Peterson to get involved.
"We're providing mechanisms here," he said, referring to specific ways students can help the homeless. "Without them we wander around well-meaning, ineffectual, despairing."Peterson recalled trips to Washington, D.C., where he saw many homeless people and was frustrated at not knowing how to help them. He urged students and faculty to take the opportunity for service.
"We don't have to walk through the Washingtons of our lives and not know what to do," he said.
The students ate potatoes, chili and cole slaw, an average meal served at St. Vincent's, toured the newly completed shelter for single men and families next door and were told what they could do to make a difference in another person's life.
The event kicked off a yearlong program called "Campaign for the Homeless," sponsored by the Salt Lake Rotary Foundation, KUED and the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the U. The Bennion Center will act as a lead-in for students wanting to help the homeless and as a source of expertise and volunteer labor, said campaign coordinator Patrick McCabe.
"To be truly happy, you have to be involved in something greater than yourself," he said.
The students were mostly representatives from campus groups - fraternities, sororities, religious groups and others, said McCabe. They were given a list of specific staffing needs that included:
-Volunteers to write, edit and publish a quarterly newsletter for the homeless shelter.
-Volunteers to design a public information campaign for the state income tax return check-off for the homeless.
-Volunteers willing to help people obtain available benefits.
-Volunteers willing to act as intake and staff workers two to 15 hours weekly.
Students need to be given "a real way to become involved," said McCabe. The campaign is designed to teach students about the problems of the homeless and give them an opportunity to help solve them.
"Almost all of us here never have to worry about where to sleep," he said, but there are between 1,000 and 2,000 homeless people in Salt Lake on any given night.
Bennion Center organizer Bill Caine said the residence halls on the U. campus showed a lot of interest in longer-term volunteer efforts while the fraternities and sororities were interested in one or two specific projects.
"I was surprised, I didn't think that there would be that much interest," he said. The Bennion Center is located in the Union Building, and students wishing more information should contact that office or call 581-4811.