WESTFIELD, NJ — The Presbyterian Church in Westfield hosted 40 overnight guests on Saturday, April 21, in a temporary “Box City” set up on the church’s front lawn. 

The event was organized to drive awareness of homelessness and to raise funds for the FISH Hospitality Program, a rotating shelter staffed by volunteers that houses 14 people per night, a week at a time, in houses of worship in Union, Somerset and Middlesex counties, according to event organizers.

“We don’t just provide shelter and meals, we change lives,” said Theresa Donatiello Neidich, executive director of FISH Hospitality Program.

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The event raised $12,000 for the program and, according to President of the FISH Board of Directors Carole Cook, organizers hope to make Box City an annual event.

A former FISH guest named Curtis spoke during the event and shared what it meant to be homeless with his three children, Cook said.

“He expressed gratitude for all of the love and warmth that he found at each church. He and his family are now living in their forever home,” she said.

According to the event’s website, participants were encouraged to bring their own cardboard boxes to sleep in overnight, brave the elements and experience a small part of what homeless people endure every night.

The event featured contests for best box decorations along with music and entertainment. Participants were instructed to bring a decorated box, sleeping bag or pad, tarp, pillow and warm clothes along with a refillable water bottle. While cell phones were permitted, no other electronic items were allowed.

Participants ate a “modest soup dinner” and were provided with a light breakfast on Sunday morning. During the evening there was a snack bar for participants.

"The Presbyterian Church in Westfield is involved in mission work domestically and internationally. This was a local, hands-on fundraiser that raised homelessness awareness within our church and our community,” Cook said. “We give thanks for the participants who spent their time sleeping out in the cold, experiencing just one night of what homeless families deal with daily."