Wielding cardboard and packing tape, Gary West created a temporary home Friday night as part of Warm Blessings Soup Kitchen’s Cardboard Nation event.
Now in its 12th year, the fundraiser encourages participants to sleep in a cardboard box to better understand the hardships of those who are homeless. The 12-hour event concluded at 7 a.m. Saturday.
Joined Friday night by his wife, Mischelle, West participated in the event for the first time.
An avid hiker, West said he enjoys any opportunity to spend time outdoors. He also was motivated to take part in the event after reading about Warm Blessings’ various programs for underprivileged individuals in the community.
“The soup kitchen and all the things that they have going on in the winter time to get the people off the streets and keep them warm, I read about it all the time,” he said.
Although this was their first year participating, Mischelle said it might become a new tradition for them.
“I think it’s fun for people to get together with their families and their kids and kind of teach them to do good for other people and the less fortunate,” she said.
Cardboard Nation, which was held near the fire training station on the campus of Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, typically attracts 65 to 138 participants and raises $12,000 and $16,000 each year. It and the Empty Bowls dinner are the two annual fundraisers held for Warm Blessings, which operates a soup kitchen for the homeless at 609 E. Dixie Ave. in Elizabethtown.
Besides providing free meals for those in need, Warm Blessings has additional programs, including laundry services, a meal delivery service for people who are confined indoors and a transportation assistance program.
Cardboard Nation participants raise money for Warm Blessings through sponsorships and often arrive with the bare essentials, as cardboard boxes are provided for attendees.
Event co-organizer Robin Garcia said many school groups, churches and families have made the event an annual tradition. John Hardin High School FFA students assisted with registration Friday night.
Although the event is designed to emulate the homeless experience, Garcia said plenty of precautions are taken to ensure participants are safe throughout the night. These include an indoor facility in case of inclement weather, ample outdoor lighting and support staff and security to provide assistance and first aid.
“We want this to emulate the homeless experience to a safe point for our participants,” she said.
Attendees are provided with soup, sandwiches and chili at the event. This year, live music was provided by Tracey Poddam, Tracy Owens and Papa Gary Fights.
Event co-organizer Terrie Burgan said in addition to raising money for Warm Blessings’ mission, the event is designed to create a sense of empathy for those who are less fortunate among attendees.
“Sometimes it’s so easy not to recognize others who are struggling all around us,” she said. “This is an opportunity to raise awareness of those who are vulnerable and have a lot less.”