surviving in a box

For nearly 24 hours, students from Johnson County will be living without cellphones, without a steady source of food and will be sleeping on cardboard.

The goal is to teach them about how homeless families live, and help raise awareness for the issue of homelessness.

Between 10 to 20 teens from the St. Rose of Lima Parish youth group will set up a shanty town near the Catholic church’s doors to bring awareness of children and teens that don’t have a consistent place to sleep. St. Rose of Lima started the annual project six or seven years ago, youth group leader Yolanda Burgener said.

They also collect canned goods, blankets, clothes or money to donate to local organizations like the Cub Pantry or KIC-IT. The Cub Pantry specifically targets students in Grades 6 through 12 that do not have food at home or need hygiene products like toothpaste or deodorant. KIC-IT, or Kids In Crisis — Intervention Team, connects children or teens with services to give them a permanent home before graduating high school.

A representative from KIC-IT will speak to the teens tonight about what teens in Johnson County are facing when they’re thrown out of their home or their parents can’t provide consistent meals for them.

When Burgener started leading the youth group about five years ago, she had never heard of this type of experience. But once it was started, she wanted to keep the tradition alive.

“This is a problem and we need to help,” Burgener said. “We have those organizations in town that need our help, and to keep these kids on track, keep them in school, get them a job and help them feel good about themselves.”

Burgener sets rules for the students to truly experience what it’s like to be homeless, she said. Students can bring a pillow or a blanket with them from home — but not both. Cellphones will be locked away overnight, and small amounts of food will be given to them throughout the night, but students will not know when and don’t have a choice on what they eat.

“I know living in boxes is a little extreme, but it takes away what the kids are used to,” Burgener said.

Since Burgener took over the youth group five years ago, she has never gotten any negative feedback from any parent that lets their child participate, she said. Typically, the students get a heightened enthusiasm to give back to those less fortunate, Burgener said.

Each year, they have a certain donation item that the youth group focuses on. A few years ago, the youth group asked for shoes to donate to Soles4Souls, Burgener said. More than 100 pairs of shoes were donated to the group.

This year’s focus is clothing and blankets, since the Cub Pantry typically does not have a large amount of non-food items, she said.

The Cub Pantry spans the same grades as the youth group at St. Rose of Lima, so the shanty town experience connects with the students more, Burgener said.

Franklin Community High School senior Maddie Clark has known classmates who were either kicked out of their house or don’t have their parents to provide for them, she said.

She never has participated in the shanty town before, but will try it this weekend with her sister Chelsea, a freshman.

“I just hear about how hard it is for them and I empathize with them,” Clark said. “Homelessness doesn’t just mean you live in a cardboard box, it could be that you don’t sleep in the same place every night.”

If you go

Students will be sleeping in cardboard boxes overnight to bring awareness to children and teens in Johnson County that may be homeless or couch surfing. To donate food, clothing or blankets, which will go to a pantry or homeless organization, here’s where you can take donations:

Where: St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, 114 Lancelot Dr., Franklin

When: Starting around 4 p.m. Saturday through 1 p.m. Sunday

What to bring: Donate non-perishable food items like canned goods, instant oatmeal packets and soup. Clothing, blankets and monetary donations will also be accepted.