By James A. McBride
.- Sisters Brianna and Danielle Breen look out of the roof of the cardboard dwelling where they spent the night at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, on Saturday, March 31.
The “Cardboard City” event, which included participants from St. Charles and Sts. Peter and Paul, Turnersville, was designed to teach young people about the plight of the homeless.
Last weekend, youth from two parishes came together to build their own city.
A city of cardboard, that is.
Organized to help youth understand the plight of the homeless, Cardboard City involved 31 junior youth group members from sixth-eighth grade sleeping in cardboard boxes, making sandwiches for the homeless, and hearing a talk from Larry DiPaul, director of Life and Justice for the Diocese of Camden.
The event was held at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, and included youth group participants from Sts. Peter and Paul, Turnersville.
The weekend started on Friday with youth experiencing the Stations of the Cross, and watching the movie “Conversations with God,” and ended with them building their new homes in Sienna Hall (it was too wet and cold for the youth to sleep outside), using cardboard boxes they brought, and packing tape. As well, all electronic devices on them (iPods, smartphones) were confiscated from them
The next morning, after a meager breakfast of toast and juice, the youth made bagged lunches with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacks to be delivered to a soup kitchen in Camden.
In his talk, Larry DiPaul discussed his friendship with Steven, a homeless man in Camden.
After a car accident left him unemployed, and without family to support him, Steven ended up homeless under the Ben Franklin Bridge, living in a cardboard box, until his death.
In an activity planned to shake youth out of their comfort zone, a local police officer arrived and “evicted” them from their homes in Sienna Hall, declaring that they were trespassing on private property.
The youth were thus forced to move across the parish parking lot, to Borromeo Hall, and only able to take half of their cardboard dwellings.
On Saturday night, the youth ate beef vegetable or chicken noodle soup out of soup cans, and said a rosary in front of a campfire. The next day, after breakfast and Mass, the teens left Cardboard City and returned to their own neighborhoods.
The weekend was designed to help the youth “understand what happens to (the homeless) in real life, and have compassion for them,” said Christine Burnite, junior youth group leader.
“The whole weekend humbled the kids,” she said.
Posted with permission from the Catholic Star Harold. Official newspaper for the diocese of Camden, New Jersey.