Students from The U volunteer at VOA Dakotas Thrift Store

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Students from The University of South Dakota volunteered their time recently at the Sioux Falls Volunteers of America (VOA) Dakotas Thrift Store. Nine students spent a day organizing the thrift store warehouse, working as cashiers, providing customer service and re-stocking the store.

The opportunity provided students with a better understanding of the causes and issues of homelessness. While in Sioux Falls, students participated in a driving tour of downtown and discussed the homelessness issues, including a tour of The Banquet, a feeding ministry that serves hungry people in the community. The USD students also toured the St. Francis House, an ecumenical emergency shelter for the homeless that offers hospitality, fellowship and support.

When asked if any of their stereotypes or perceptions were changed, Kari Owens, a senior music education major from Aberdeen, S.D., said, “Not all situations of homelessness are self-inflicted, like drug or alcohol abuse. Some are sad and powerful stories of domestic violence or as complex as a failing economy. These people of Sioux Falls have a past and a story to tell if you take the time to listen.”

Student Monique Ellefson, a native of Sioux Falls, said she was “surprised by the number of people affected by poverty” in her home town. “I thought I was aware of the issues,” she added, “but I definitely was not.”

In addition to Ellefson and Owens, students involved in the volunteer efforts in Sioux Falls included Samantha Meyer of Sioux Falls, S.D., Maggie Graham of Mitchell, S.D., Emily Brockett of Newark, Ill., Cati Peterson and Jared Schwab of Vermillion, S.D., Judon Mehlhaff of Eureka, S.D., and Shane Bryan of Oacoma, S.D.