February 18, 2020 TVG Staff

Sleeping Outside in a Cardboard Box: My Experience Raising Awareness for the Homeless

How TVG Helped Raise Awareness for the Homeless

By Bailie Moore, Senior Account Executive at The Vandiver Group in St. Louis, Missouri

Around MLK Day each year, TVG supports a day of service for staff members. Staffers choose a nonprofit and spend the day volunteering at that organization.

I kept waking up. I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable even though I had a sleeping bag and another blanket between myself and the hard pavement beneath my cardboard box. It was moderately warm, but my face was freezing. I heard a lot of noise outside, most likely people coming out from the nearby restaurants and bars. The only thing that separated me from outside elements were the flimsy walls of my cardboard box, and the meager duct tape that held it together. I wondered how people slept on the streets night after night.

On Friday, February 7, 2020, I joined three hundred others on the streets of Champaign, Illinois to sleep outside in a cardboard box. Our goal was to help raise awareness and funds for those suffering from homelessness. C-U at Home is a nonprofit that serves that homeless population of Champaign-Urbana through a daytime drop-in center, transitional housing, transportation, 24/7 street outreach, education and advocacy and a seasonal emergency shelter.

The annual event, called One Winter Night, raises two-thirds of the nonprofit’s overall budget for the year. Each participant volunteers to sleep outside in a cardboard box overnight and raise $1,000 on behalf of the nonprofit. The 2020 financial goal was $350,000, more than the organization has ever raised before. But it was high for a good reason. By the end of 2020, C-U at Home wants to provide a men’s and women’s emergency shelter year-round, something the community hasn’t had in nearly twenty years.

One Winter Night is designed to bring awareness to the issues of the homeless. It provides a glimpse into what it might be like to survive on the streets. Throughout the evening, participants and volunteers streamed into the designated “headquarters” for warmth, snacks, music and speaker presentations. The event is open to the public and provides an interaction point for anyone to come and hear about homelessness – through the eyes of law enforcement, mental health providers, church leaders and those whose lives have been changed because of the services C-U at Home provides.

The event not only raises awareness and significant funds toward the cause, but it also educates the community on homelessness and aims to decrease the stigma society has towards the homeless. For instance, C-U at Home never calls the population they serve “homeless,” but rather “friends without an address.”

Many of our friends that sleep in the seasonal emergency shelter don’t have a safe place to go, much less a place of their own to call home, when they walk out of those doors in the morning. Their next step is figuring out where to find food, get out of the elements, and survive each day. Progress is infinitely harder when a person doesn’t have a safe and warm place to lay their head at night. I knew friends without addresses that were able to finally keep jobs or get jobs. All because they had a place to rest each night.

I had the joy that night to run into one of my friends who used to be without an address. He was about to celebrate one year in his current job with a stable place to call home. The entire experience was humbling and gave me an even deeper sense of the need for C-U at Home to be able to continue to provide a year-round emergency shelter in the community.

As of today, C-U at Home has raised $330,458 out of the $350,000 goal. The books for One Winter Night 2020 will close on Friday, February 21. I have no doubt they will reach their goal. If you wish to donate, visit: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/onewinternight-2020/.

All professional photos below taken by Holly Birch Photography.