First Box City in 2011 a Huge Success!
(All photographs courtesy of Bill Jones- Event Committee)
On Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 6 pm, participants of “Box City” began to arrive at the football practice field at Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, NJ. They came to “SLEEP IN A BOX TO END HOMELESSNESS.”
Event organizer/IHN Board member and Hunterdon Central teacher, Jane Paradiso, hoped that this event would help participants learn about homelessness in Hunterdon County and also raise money for the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Hunterdon County, Inc. (IHN).
The evening began with a few rain drops, but sunlight peaked out shortly thereafter. The “Box City” participants came dragging their creatively decorated boxes, which were donated by area businesses- Rogers Appliances, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
There were over 100 people, including students, former and current clients of IHN, staff members, board members, volunteers, members of Hunterdon congregations and the community. Joining the crowd was Chris Steffner, principal and newly-appointed interim superintendent of Hunterdon Central High School.
The event was sponsored by the Clinton United Methodist Church, Comfort Keepers, Mercedes -Benz of Flemington, State Farm Insurance ( Ed Mahn) and Unity Bank. All “Box City” participants received pledges from friends and families, who sponsored their night in a box.
After “Box City” was assembled, an evening of music, testimonials and film about homelessness began at 7 pm. IHN Director Geleen Donovan told the crowd of mostly young people that any one person can make a difference- by volunteering, by learning about homelessness, by advocating for laws and programs that effect people’s lives and most of all by understanding that homelessness does not define who a person is. Kevin Cubberly, a guidance counselor at Hunterdon Central, performed original songs, assisted by his young daughter, Nora. Moved by an experience he had in Washington DC some years ago when he encountered a homeless man on the street, Kevin wrote and performed a song called “Boxes.”
Two moving testimonials were up next- Victoria Barton, a senior at Central, spoke about how she and her mother were homeless many times. Laura Lacey spoke as a mother of three who had recently been homeless and at the IHN.
Macheis Wind, a local musician/song writer from “The Guitar Tree” faciliates a workshop with the IHN families each week. As he was performing, family members who are currently staying at the IHN shelter came up and joined Macheis in a few songs. As a very special treat, Laura Lacey’s daughter, Eden, sang a solo as a gift to everyone. It was clear that the audience was moved by their courage to speak and sing to the crowd.
As the sun set, the move, “Homeless in Hunterdon,” was shown on a large outdoor movie screen. This short documentary was produced by IHN and filmed by a group of high school students, which portrays interviews with twelve formerly homeless family members who were helped by the IHN. The movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith, ended the evening, as it realistically depicts the life of Chris Gardner, a man who experienced homelessness, along with his young son, and how he triumphantly overcomes this struggle.
After the films ended, there was a peaceful, goodwill sense of community, with pockets of music, conversation and Frisbee-throwing throughout “Box City.”
But, as the night grew to a chilly 55 degrees and people retreated into their boxes, a sense of aloneness, cold and isolation was experienced by some who talked about this the next day. 55 degrees is not that cold- imagine what it must be like on a really cold night. Imagine what it must be like to be alone in a box. It was not very comfortable. Many people did not sleep, but laid awake wondering how does anyone do this every night and get up the next day? It was a feeling that you cannot describe. You have to sleep in a box to understand. One high school student said “Box City should be a requirement for every senior before they graduate.”
Look for “Box City” next year.