MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - The 14th annual homeless sleep out, an Our Lady of Lourdes Youth Group tradition, was a huge success. During this event, young people sleep out in cardboard boxes to raise awareness of homelessness and raise funds to help the cause.

The experience of sleeping as a homeless person was renewing, as well as eye opening. Starting at around 5:30 pm, the youth group gathered in Pollard Hall. We sat around talking in excitement about the night we had ahead of us. After the 5 p.m. mass, we brought cans and cardboard signs to each entrance and begged for money. While standing out in the cold to beg, the wind was nipping at our fingertips so we knew it was going to be a frosty night. When coming inside we got served soup from the soup kitchen, and as we learned, only fortunate homeless people would be able to find this type of dinner on a regular night. After, we gathered around and got into a truly engaging conversation with the youth group leader Kevin. Kevin is full of knowledge about the present day homeless people, and he is a huge advocate for helping them. Box assembling came next, and we each personalized our boxes. At around 9 p.m., we hiked out to the front lawn and laid our tarps on the wet ground to ensure that our boxes stay dry. We made little villages and set up our sleeping bags for the night. By this time, the temperature was dropping and we were all trying our best to stay bundled up. Kevin kindly set up a trash can fire and we stayed in a group and warmed our bodies, telling stories, talking about the future, and laughing. As the hours past, one by one the group standing became smaller and smaller, until we were all in our boxes by 3:00 am.

By the time everyone was awake, it was around 7:45 a.m. Though the tarps were thought to ensure that the moisture stay out, the majority of us woke up with wet boxes. Each of us crawled out of our boxes like a butterfly breaking a cocoon and shivered with the sudden temperature drop. The fire was out and everything was chilly and wet. We all rushed inside to get into the warm and discussed our amazing night. Bagels were kindly served to us, and it was nice to have solid food (Note: We did NOT brush our teeth since toothbrushes are usually unavailable to homeless people, which made them also unavailable to us). After we ate, we formed an assembly line and created 150 sandwiches, with chips, a dessert, and a drink. We were up and shaking our cans outside begging for money after the 7:15 a.m. mass. We attended 9:30 a.m. mass and got warm smiles and very thoughtful recognition from the clergy. Before long, we were out again begging for more money after the 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. masses. All in all, with our personal fundraisers as well as our begging after mass, we raised over $2,500 for homeless people.

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While the underclassmen continued begging after each mass, the upper classmen traveled to Irvington, NJ to deliver the 150 prepared lunches they made that morning. In collaboration with Bridges Outreach, based in Summit, the kids worked to hand out bagged lunches along with hot soup, hot chocolate, toiletry items, and socks to homeless people in Irvington. The high schoolers saw close to eighty homeless people this morning, the majority of them extremely grateful for the help they were receiving. Every Sunday morning and Friday night Bridges makes runs to Irvington and New York City to help the homeless and give them what they can that day.  Bridges coordinator Tobias Fox, informed the kids about the work that Bridges does and made sure that the young adults knew how appreciative their organization was for the extra hands. 

Of course our experience was nothing compared to what homeless people have to go through everyday, however it did give us a good perspective. This involvement led us to appreciate the roof over our head, the money our parents make to provide for us, and even the nice hot shower we all took when we got home. To be able to live our lives, not worrying when we will be able to get our next meal, whether someone will attack you, or where you will sleep, is a huge blessing. Thank you to everyone who donated to the homeless sleep out, and allowed us to reach our goal. And lastly, thank you to Kevin our youth group leader who opened up our eyes with a new perspective and appreciation on life.