The line of people stretched out the door at the Daystar Life Center one recent Wednesday afternoon. The Center provides a range of services—including food, clothing, bus passes, rent and utility assistance, and help procuring ID cards. Inside at the counter, an elderly woman was having trouble holding a pencil to circle an item she needed on an order form.
Eckerd College student Lucrezia Speranza smiled, leaned across the counter and circled the picture of a toothbrush for her. The woman nodded, and Lucrezia backed away, not wanting to step in again unless needed. The woman moved on to a bar of soap, hesitated, and then looked up at Lucrezia.
A junior psychology student from Rome, Italy, Lucrezia comes to Daystar for about three hours nearly every Wednesday. She’s been doing that since early October. She answers questions and hands out mail, but her primary job is a food runner. She takes an order from the counter, walks quickly down a hall to the food pantry, and fills a shopping cart with frozen meat, canned vegetables, bread and other items. The food, along with hygiene products and clothing, is donated by Feeding Tampa Bay, neighborhood groups and local high schools, among other sources.
“She’s very enthusiastic, very friendly and she’s a fast learner,” says Linda Drumm, who manages the food pantry. “We absolutely rely on her. All the Eckerd students are really good.”
Lucrezia is part of a cohort of Eckerd students who make regular trips to volunteer at Daystar. All Eckerd students have an academic requirement to take classes that emphasize the connection between meaningful service and learning through written reflection. Led by Ronald Porter ’05, Ph.D., director of service learning, the students are also required to complete 20 hours of community service at a variety of locations, both in the U.S. and abroad.
“I think little things we can do for people who are in need is very important,” Lucrezia explains. “Even just listening to someone can be an eye-opening experience. Their lives are very different relative to ours. The clients know they’re being helped, and they’re very grateful.”
Founded by the late Monsignor John P. McNulty in 1982, Daystar began helping the needy from the basement of St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in downtown St. Petersburg. The facility is now located about 15 minutes from Eckerd’s campus, in the Jordan Park neighborhood.
“I want students to be able to interact with everyday people beyond the campus and come face-to-face with the needs we’re seeing in our community,” Porter explains.
Not only is Daystar close to campus, he notes, “Serving at places like Daystar has a healing potential. People are being bombarded by bad news these days, and being able to go out and help in some way can shift someone’s energy around. We went to Daystar last year, and we’ll go again in the spring.”
Lucrezia, Porter adds, steps fully into her job at the Center. “She works with the clients at the human level.”
After two years of playing golf at a West Virginia college, Lucrezia transferred to Eckerd, a private liberal arts college. “I always wanted to live in Florida,” she says, “and my golf coach [David Woodrum] became Eckerd’s head men’s and women’s golf coach. He asked me to come with him. I love it here.”
Lucrezia did similar volunteer work as a high school student in Rome, helping her develop empathy for those less fortunate. “The first thing I see is a person in front of me, and I wonder why or how they ended up in their situation,” she says. “Last week I was helping the last client of the day. It was an older lady who wanted a sweatshirt because it was cold outside. She asked for two, and I gave them to her. She was a happy person … so grateful for what she got.
“I’ve got six or seven sweatshirts in my closet. They’re just random clothes. But to people like her … I also noticed that if people don’t need something, they won’t ask for it. They’ll say they don’t need socks this week. They don’t try to get more stuff, because they know other people around them need it, and they’re trying to help each other.
“Sometimes,” she adds, “I’m tired from studying and practicing golf, and I don’t really want to go to the Center. But once I get there, my whole attitude changes. I always stay until the last client.”