Volunteers prepare for fundraiser to fight homelessness
CHAMPAIGN — Sleeping bag: Check.
Long underwear: Check.
Cardboard box: Check.
The temperatures are on their way down for the weekend, and dozens of volunteers are preparing for a cold Friday night sleeping outside in boxes in downtown Champaign and on the University of Illinois Quad for C-U at Home's annual fundraiser for the homeless called One Winter Night.
The Rev. Janet Rasmussen, who plans to be in one of those boxes downtown, said she doesn't mind being out in the cold to take a walk or go cross-country skiing. But she's aware she and many others choose when they spend that time out in the cold, and the homeless don't.
The pastor of First Mennonite Church, Urbana, Rasmussen said she's also "painfully aware" of affordable-housing issues in the local community and sees One Winter Night as an opportunity to build empathy.
"Certainly it's a challenge for me to walk the talk," she said.
The overnight One Winter Night event in two locations will run from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.
It's the main annual fundraiser for C-U at Home, an organization that has identified the homeless people most vulnerable to dying in the streets of Champaign-Urbana and is working to find them homes of their own.
C-U at Home currently has four formerly homeless people living in rental homes, and the money raised by One Winter Night goes to cover those persons' living expenses as they transition from street life to home life, plus find new housing options for more people living on the streets, said the organization's executive director Melany Jackson.
Last year, the downtown Champaign event raised $29,700, and C-U at Home hopes to raise $50,000 this year with locations downtown and on the Quad.
C-U at Home hopes to sign up 30 box dwellers for downtown, and is nearing its goal at 27, Jackson said.
For the campus event, the registration goal is falling much shorter: The organization hopes to sign up 300 box dwellers, yet had signed up only about 60 people at the beginning of the week, Jackson said.
However, she said, she expects many students will register the night of the event, so she still hopes to get a couple of hundred participants. Students tend to just show up at their events, and the more who participate the better, she said.
"Please come on down," she urges.
One Winter Night box dwellers raise pledges in advance, and through business sponsors and donations. Campus box dwellers have been asked to raise $50 apiece, and downtown box dwellers were asked to raise more at $1,500 apiece.
More than 100 volunteers have signed up to help with the event downtown and 70 volunteers have signed up to help in the campus area, among them students, church groups and youth groups. They will be helping with such tasks as registration, setting up and tearing down the event and serving warm beverages, Jackson said.
More volunteers are needed for both locations, she said.
One of the downtown volunteers, Cathy Rector of Champaign, will be with a group of students from the High School of St. Thomas More's Interact Club. The students will be helping serve warm beverages and food through the early part of the night, she said.
Rector is a member of Champaign West Rotary, which sponsors the club. She will also be staying through the night to help, and her husband, Jon, will be one of the downtown box dwellers, she said.
"I think he's got his sleeping bag and his long underwear all laid out and we'll just dress warm," she said. "We're prepared for it."
The Rev. Jim McClarey, pastor of Savoy United Methodist Church, Champaign, will be a downtown Champaign box dweller for a second year, and he remembers last year's event as cold, rainy and a bit uncomfortable. Plus his box leaked.
He also knew he had a lifeline nearby where he could have escaped the rain and cold — a comfort homeless people don't have.
"My car was about three blocks away," he recalled. "I was determined not to use it."
McClarey said his faith and a concern for homelessness compel him to take part in this event.
And, he also said, "I'm kind of an adventurer. New experiences are fun."
Donors have been very generous to this cause, he and Rasmussen said. And, Rasmussen also said, she anticipates a number of friends and church members will come out Friday night to be supportive in person.
"I hope there will be the blessing of community, even on the cold winter night," she said.