We are in the midst of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which ends Sunday. The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness organizes this effort to raise awareness with the hope that people will not forget about the plight of the homeless after the holidays.
Elaine Scutti, coordinator of youth ministry at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, has worked to raise awareness among the youth group members. For the past four years, she has organized Sleep Out Saturday, a fundraising event that provides students the opportunity to experience what it might be like to not have shelter or a reliable food source for a night. At this year’s Sleep Out Saturday, 30 participants in grades eight through 12 were given scenarios common to people who face a housing and food crisis.
After the scenarios and presentations by guest speakers, including one who had been a resident of Centre House, the local homeless shelter operated by Housing Transitions, the students slept outside in the cold. Each student had no shelter except a cardboard box to protect them from a 30-degree October night.
“At the end of the scenarios, one of the kids said, ‘That wasn’t fun at all,’ ” Scutti said.
This year’s event raised almost $2,500 for Housing Transitions.
Scutti said she thinks the students don’t just walk away from this experience without thinking about it again. Last year, a speaker explained that when you are homeless, no one really pays much attention to your birthday. Afterward, youth group members started a “birthday blessings” cake donation to Centre House. Now, once a month, one of the teens bakes a cake and brings it to the shelter.
The participants will continue to build on their experience by volunteering for the church’s Out of the Cold program in April in which they will serve food to folks who come in off the street. The youth group also will crochet mats out of plastic grocery bags for members of the homeless community to use as protection from the ground.
Keeping the hungry and homeless in mind throughout the year strengthens our community and helps those facing these crisis issues feel supported.