Homeless for a night in Cardboard City

"I’m grateful for my home." A seventh grader told his mom that at the conclusion of St. Wenceslaus School’s Cardboard City.

Held on the school’s grounds at 227 Main St. E in New Prague, 32 seventh and eighth graders spent from the evening of Thursday, Dec. 20, to the morning of Friday, Dec. 21, sleeping in cardboard boxes.

The students lived in Cardboard City, a collection of cardboard boxes, to draw attention to the homeless. The event fell during the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Temperatures dropped to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind chill making it feel like –4 degrees.

"Cardboard City is part of a social outreach project for the students who are learning to care for the needs of the world in their classrooms," said Kim Doyle, principal of the school.

The students with help from seven adults built their own sleeping quarters out of boxes. Tim Flicek, an adult volunteer, had been saving furniture boxes and area businesses such as Conagra Inc. supplied cardboard.

"All of them slept through the night outside except seven to eight," said Ann Christy, eighth grade homeroom and religion teacher at St. Wenceslaus School on Friday morning.

The school was open in case any students decided to come in. The handful of students came in around 4 a.m. and slept the rest of the night inside. At least 20 adults volunteered from keeping an eye on the students to staying in the school to helping prepare meals.

Christy said the students were given a list of clothing to wear for the night. They were advised to dress in layers in such materials as wool, flannel and down and to include snowpants. Besides their clothing they had sleeping bags, blankets and a sleeping mat. While the majority slept by themselves, a few had two to three people in their cardboard homes.

The students had a simple meal of chicken soup and a sandwich. Doyle said they spent the rest of the evening making cards for the less fortunate, listening to a speaker about social action ministries and learned more about the homeless.

Students also raised funds for the Salvation Army and Family Promise. "I think it’s going to be over $1,000," said Christy, giving an early estimate.

They also collected household items for Sharing and Caring Hands. The Minneapolis based organization provides people who are in transition from shelters to their own house or apartment with various items. The eighth graders visited Sharing and Caring Hands about two weeks ago and the shelves for the household goods were nearly empty. Among the items collected were bed sheets, cups, glasses, pots and pans.

"For our first time I thought it went well," said Christy. "I think they all got a lot out of it."