Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

When Deanna Stoddard ’05 (Kingsley, Pa.) began working as coordinator of the Meals at Third Street program, she called home almost every week seeking culinary advice from her mother. Now the government and law major shares recipes with her parents when she returns home.

Meals at Third Street allows about seven student volunteers the opportunity to prepare, serve, and share meals with approximately 20 residents of the Third Street Alliance Shelter for Women and Children in downtown Easton one night a week. More than Stoddard’s cooking abilities have improved since she took the reins as student leader of the program.

“It’s created leadership in me, compassion for others, organization, communication skills, skills in dealing with people who are different from me — I definitely think these are life skills you would not learn in the classroom,” she says. “Of course you learn about social issues — hunger and poverty. You learn about these things in school, but I think until you can put a real face to it, it doesn’t have as much of an impact.”

The experience of cooking for and dining with people whose lives are so different from hers has given Stoddard a different perspective on her life.

“At Lafayette, there is a metaphor about how Lafayette sits up on a hill above the Easton community, and trying to get the students to get out of their shells and break out of the ‘bubble’ has proved challenging,” she says. “But it’s very rewarding, the sense of community you get and the sense of overall responsibility that everyone needs to work together to solve these issues.”

Thao Nguyen ’07 (South Plainfield, N.J.) says that after working at Meals at Third Street for a year and a half, she has come to realize her problems are quite minor compared to those of the shelter’s residents.

“Most of the students at Lafayette are sheltered from a lot of things,” says Nguyen, a chemistry major. “But when you go down the hill [into downtown Easton] you realize that you are such a minority compared to everyone else. It makes you appreciate what you have and reminds me that I have nothing to complain about.”

David Shellhamer ’07 (Yardley, Pa.), also a chemistry major who has been volunteering at Meals at Third Street since last spring, agrees.

“Sometimes I believe that being up here, in the college community, you really don’t look outside and see how many things you have,” he says. “I realized I want to give back to people who might not have it as good. Making that decision does make you feel good and does help out people who have less than you.”

Shellhamer cherishes a particular moment he experienced after volunteering for just a few weeks.

“There was one point where I just looked up and saw everyone eating together, smiling, having a good time, and enjoying themselves. You could really see it was because of us,” he says.

Achieving those moments takes some work from both the students and the residents, the volunteers say, because gaining the residents’ trust can be challenging. The women and children who live at the shelter often believe that every college student is spoiled and has never been in need or want of something. Stoddard says that students have to be cognizant of the residents’ emotions.

“Some people will wait until we leave to eat because of their own sense of pride or not feeling comfortable eating with us until they get to know us,” she explains. “You want to please them, but you don’t want to make it a charity act, so we try to make it a reciprocal relationship. We get to eat too, we talk to them, and it gives us a break from our work and school routine as well.”

Nguyen explains that one night, a woman at the shelter who had just received her high school general equivalency diploma asked the students for advice on applying to Northampton Community College. The students gladly explained the process. Not only did the students become part of that woman’s success story, but she also learned that they could offer more than relief from a night of cooking.

Most of the students involved in the program say that their time with Meals at Third Street has been more rewarding than they could have ever imagined and has inspired them to want to continue volunteering beyond college.

Stoddard says that her experience has impacted her career plans.

“I’ve always been interested in child legal advocacy and issues tied to children and youth, but now I’m more interested in policy and trying to get to the root causes, the factors that create some of these conditions the residents live with,” she says.

As for Nguyen, she can’t wait to take over the program when Stoddard graduates at the end of this year. The role will allow her to continue volunteering and give her a chance to indulge her love of cooking.

Categorized in: Students