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UNLV Students DASH to Help
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make Lisamarie Tomassetti think of the often forgotten Las Vegans who don’t have someplace to sleep tonight.
The staple sandwich is a reminder of the people in our community who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
It’s also a reminder of her childhood when she was homeless.
On late Friday afternoons over the past four years Lisamarie and UNLV students have been delivering hope to Las Vegas homeless by spreading some peanut butter and jelly.
Perhaps you’ve seen her and dozens of other UNLV students making PB&J sandwiches at the eating bar in the Student Union, before packing the sandwiches and other food in sacks to be delivered to the clients of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission downtown.
DASH — or Delivering And Serving Hope — is one of the longest running volunteer programs at UNLV. It was originally called Meals on Wheels, but the name was changed so not to confuse it with the government program of the same name.
On the last two Fridays of each month during the semester UNLV students gather on the first floor of the Student Union to make the sandwiches and pack lunch sacks that then are delivered by the students who give them to the homeless.
Stine Odegard, the program coordinator for Service Programs and Alternative Break Trips with the office of Student Engagement and Diversity, said DASH offers students volunteers an opportunity to learn about many of the barriers experienced by those experiencing homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the community.
“We hope the volunteers take this opportunity to learn about an often forgotten segment of our community and explore new ways to either help or advocate for these disenfranchised populations,” Stine said.
For Lisamarie, it’s a story she’s familiar with.
As a teenager and Green Valley High School student she experienced homelessness twice.
“My mother and sister and I had been evicted. We stayed in the car or with friends. Eventually we moved into a budget suites,” Lisamarie said. “It was very difficult. I actually used Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, who helped get on us on food stamps.”
Through it all she stayed in school. She found inspiration in something her grandfather used to tell her. “My grandpa would say, ‘You’re going to college,’” Lisamarie said.
Stine explained, food stamps and other such programs as Lisamarie experienced are the main reason why DASH meets on the last two Fridays of the month. The population experiencing homelessness who have access to it, receive government assistance at the beginning of the month and are more likely to be in greater need at the end of months, she said.
That’s when some members of our community don’t know where their next meal is coming from, Lisamarie said.
After graduating from Green Valley High School, Lisamarie had gone to Kent State University before transferring to UNLV, where she just felt more at home.
She decided that she would try and get involved in different organizations on campus. “I found DASH and I fell in love with it,” she said.
It can be overwhelming for Lisamarie sometimes. The weekend before Thanksgiving, for instance, hit her hard. “I see people. I saw a mom with two small children… a boy and a girl. I had to walk out.”
While some students signup only trying to rack up service hours, maybe for an organization they’re a part of, Lisamarie said, they end up getting so much more out if. “When you’re actually handing the sacks of food out, it ties everything together. It makes it a reality,” she said.
During a reflection time at the end of a DASH run to the Rescue Mission, Lisamarie says the words she hears the most are “grateful and hope.”
“DASH is bringing awareness to a sensitive subject,” she said.
Lisamarie says there’s a joy and thankfulness too when she and other Rebels engage the community experiencing homelessness. “It’s my favorite part. We’re all dressed in our UNLV gear and they let us know they are so glad we are here. We try to be very approachable and engage people in conversations. Some people are just looking for someone to talk to.”
She added, “It makes me feel really great. They have a place. There are people helping them. It’s a really surreal feeling.”
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