Knowing firsthand how quickly things can change, South Dakota State University senior Lisa Rasmussen goes out of her way to help others.
Rasmussen, a nontraditional student who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies, takes classes at the Community College for Sioux Falls. After noticing a message on Facebook that The Banquet needed volunteers, she stepped up. The Banquet, which has two locations in Sioux Falls, served 196,000 hot meals to families in 2019.
She had volunteered occasionally but had time during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to return to The Banquet and encouraged her daughters, Megan and Lauren, to come along.
“The people whom the Banquet serves need food now more than ever,” Rasmussen said. “They would go hungry if The Banquet stopped serving meals. I started signing us up on the ‘angel’ list, which is a call out to regular volunteers when there is a sudden need for more people to help.
“The first time I volunteered at The Banquet, I thought I was going to serve others. I left feeling so filled up in return,” she continued. “The people were so grateful for the food we served. My goal in serving tables with beverages was to make people feel like they were at a sit-down restaurant and not a place that serves free food to the hungry of Sioux Falls. I truly felt blessed by giving.”
That feeling has carried over to her daughters.
“They are growing up in a world that talks about looking out for yourself first, and I want them to learn how to serve others,” Rasmussen said. “They have never been in want for a glass of milk, and I wanted them to be thankful for what they have. I learned that night that the people at The Banquet will drink as much milk as they can.”
Being thankful came to the forefront when Rasmussen received meals and donations following her husband’s death four years ago.
“People brought us meals for six months, and strangers would hear our story and send a check for up to $1,000,” she said. “I was so humbled by the love poured on us. Now, when I hear about anyone in need, I try to help. I send letters of encouragement, I run errands for people, I send money, etc. I know how it feels to feel the world crashing down upon you and my goal is to make life just a little bit easier for people. Instead of judging, I know everyone could be a few crises away from being hungry.”
That compassion comes across when in the classroom.
“Lisa is a genuine, kind-hearted and empathetic person. She has the ability to foresee a community need and an innate desire to serve others,” said SDSU instructor Val Albert, who has had Rasmussen in three classes. “Lisa is driven yet humble. She is a mentor to her classmates, and despite her full schedule between work, classes and raising her children, she still prioritizes helping others. Even before the pandemic, she believed in giving back and teaching those values to her daughters as well. She is a role model for us all.”
After talking with an admissions counselor about returning to complete her bachelor’s degree, Rasmussen decided SDSU and its degree in human development and family studies were for her.
“I am passionate about helping people, and I’ve found that HDFS is really a helping, service-oriented degree. I’m drawn to nonprofits because I truly care about helping others less fortunate,” said Rasmussen, who also worked in child care. “I love working with children, but I also want to help their families succeed and HDFS really goes along with all of this.”
Amber Letcher, an SDSU associate professor and 4-H youth development specialist, said Rasmussen’s compassion will enable her to be successful after graduation.
“I only met Lisa very recently, but even during our brief conversation I was so impressed with her selflessness. She is a true example of the type of future professional we try to develop in our program—an advocate for vulnerable and underrepresented individuals,” Letcher said.
As part of that advocacy, Rasmussen encourages others to volunteer, whether that is at The Banquet or in other areas.
“I’ll never forget the first time I served in The Banquet’s dining room,” she said. “Two men came running in and were covered in sweat. They explained they ran six blocks from work so they wouldn’t miss the meal. I have never in my life had to literally run to get food or I would go hungry. It really puts life in perspective.”