VILLA GROVE — This wasn't your typical Girl Scout campout. There were no campfires or s'mores, no cots or air mattresses, no iPods or radios.
The Villa Grove Girl Scout Cadette Troop No. 2203 set up cardboard shelters in a grocery store parking lot Friday night to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless. Some girls signed up for a shorter shift of occupancy in the temporary camp, but four hearty Scouts lasted the whole night in chilly overnight temperatures.
Emmaline Cler, 14, said she used double layers of cardboard to help block the wind and retain body heat. "It makes you realize how much little things like an extra blanket can mean," she said.
Sixth-grader Holly Olson said they used shredded cardboard padding to make the boxes more comfortable for sleeping and sitting. She said, "It was pretty comfy."
Inspired by the Cardboard City scouting event in Springfield, troop leader Becky Olson said the troop decided to do something similar in their own hometown as their service project for the year. They have done a lot of activities to help animals in the past, so Olson thought it would be something different for them to do. The leaders used the opportunity to teach the girls about the problem of homelessness in society and area agencies that provide aide for people in need.
The group decided to also use this opportunity to collect donations for the Rural Grace Food Pantry and Beth's Place, a shelter for abused women and children. "The girls really work well together, "said Olson. "They are very giving and they truly care about people."
The girls were chaperoned throughout the night by their four leaders, and the local law enforcement kept a pretty close eye on them. There were no problems, but they did get a lot of curious stares from people passing by and questions about what they were doing. Cler said she was thankful for the lighting and safety of the area, which some are not so fortunate to have.
Of course, what would a Girl Scout event be without cookie sales? The girls sold cookies during the event and encouraged people to buy a box for the two charities. One kind person bought a box for the girls to share during their campout. The grateful girls rationed them through the night, eating two at a time.
"I'm proud of what the girls are doing," said Olson. The leaders hope this experience will not only raise the troops' awareness of the homeless, but also encourage them to become volunteers and activists in their community.