For almost as long as she can remember, Laura Banos has felt a sense of service and helping those in need.
“Food and clothing drives have always been happening around me, from elementary school [contests] to collect the most food and win a pizza party, to sock and mitten drives at the gym where I went for gymnastics,” says Banos, a senior majoring in sociology and anthropology.
“I was also involved in scouting, and part of the Girl Scout promise is to help people at all times. We would help out with Meals on Wheels and at soup kitchens, in addition to environmental service endeavors. When I was in third grade, I can remember helping a teacher sort food after school. In high school, I helped make holiday baskets for women at a shelter.”
At Lehigh, Banos’ urge to serve people—especially the hungry and homeless—has grown.
A fixture in Lehigh’s Community Service Office since her sophomore year, Banos has helped planned Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week this week to inspire students, faculty and staff to try and make a difference.
“The goal of the week is to encourage the Lehigh community to serve or get involved, to change the way things are,” she says. “Being educated is a crucial first step in solving any kind of problem.”
Last year, Banos co-planned Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week with Ashley Pritchard ’09.
“Laura is incredibly bright and is dedicated to this issue,” says Carolina Hernandez, the director of Lehigh’s Community Service Office. “She’s a selfless leader, and she’s thoughtful and deliberate in how she approaches programming.”
The events this week are aimed at helping the less-fortunate in Lehigh’s backyard. On Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, the sorority Alpha Gamma Delta will set up a station in the University Center where student volunteers can make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for South Side Bethlehem schoolchildren in the Homework Club. The club is an after-school study program in which Lehigh student serve as tutors and help the younger kids with their homework.
On Nov. 3, homeless people will share their stories in a panel discussion titled “Faces of the Homeless.” The event begins at 6 p.m. in Room 113 of Maginnes Hall.
“This will be the fifth one of these that I attend, and it is always a new experience,” says Banos. “It humanizes the issue to hear stories from people who are down on their luck and usually ignored.”
A sleep-out will be held on Thursday night on the front lawn of the University Center to help students get a taste of what it is like to be homeless. The 2006 Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” based on the true story of one-time homeless man Christopher Gardner, will be shown.
“This event definitely got the point across to me that homelessness is physically and mentally difficult,” says Banos. “You can wear as many layers as you want, but the cold still seems to get to you, and rain is another story.”
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will close with “Call to Action” Days on Nov. 6 and 7. Student volunteers will work at New Bethany Ministries on the South Side on Friday and will make and serve breakfast at Victory House, a local men’s shelter, on Saturday. The Community Service Office will collect food, and solicit monetary donations to buy food, for Sodexho’s Dining Services’ annual “Helping Hands Across America” food drive.