Cardboard Box City event brings attention to local homelessness

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

People who want to help local homeless families can build some empathy while also supporting a Lee County homeless charity on Saturday by paying to live in a cardboard box for the night.

Starting at 3 p.m. at Southern Lee High School, volunteers with Family Promise will begin handing out boxes for Cardboard Box City, which has the tagline of "Sleep in a box for one night for those who sleep in a box every night."

Fredrika Cooke, the executive director of Family Promise and the day center it runs for local homeless families, said this is the third year the organization has done the event, having held it in 2011 and 2012 but not last year.

Cooke wants it to come back with a bang: In 2012, she said, it raised around $4,500, but this year, she's hoping to rake in more than $10,000.

"It is a big goal, but we know the people of Lee County are kind and generous, so we think we can accomplish it," she said.

The premise is simple: If you can afford a house or apartment, you might also be able to afford the $75 it costs to rent a box for the night. Doing so shows compassion for those less fortunate, organizers said, and it won't even be half as bad as being homeless — it's only for one night, there will be dinner provided along with entertainment, clean bathroom facilities will be readily available, and the area is safe and well-lit.

A $75 donation is the cost of a single box, two boxes cost $100, and it's an extra $50 for every additional box. People also are encouraged to bring materials to decorate their boxes because the best-decorated one will win a prize at the end of the night.

Joy Murphy, a Family Promise board member, said the whole board has come together behind the fundraiser and is hoping to knock it out of the park. It's an obvious issue to get behind, she said.

"Think about the first time you saw a homeless person, and the effect it had on you," Murphy said. "The first time I saw a homeless person was in New York City. I thought, 'Why? What happened?' And then I realized we had them in safe little Lee County, too. We have them sleeping in cars and on concrete loading docks of abandoned factories."

Lee County Schools recorded 232 students who were homeless at one time or another during the 2012-13 school year. In 2013, Family Promise served 69 homeless students and is aiming to increase that number in the future. The goal of the program is to help adults find a job or education, and then place them into a house or apartment of their own.

"The more money we have, the more families we can help, and the faster we can transition them out," Cooke said, adding: "Cardboard Box City is a wonderful opportunity to show how much you care about someone who is less fortunate than you and is going through a difficult time. It's also good, if you have young kids, to show them how important it is to be involved in the community."

People who want to participate can just show up at the event with cash or checks, or register ahead of time. For more information call Murphy at (919) 258-6133 or Family Promise at (919) 718-1540.

Registration begins at 3 p.m., dinner will be served at 6 p.m., and lights-out is at 11 p.m. There will also be music, dancing and a magician for entertainment. People will clean up their areas Sunday morning.

Alcohol, guns and pets are forbidden. For large groups of minors, there must be one adult for every five people under 18.