Box City to raise awareness for homelessness

The need continues to grow and the community can help.

New Pathways will be hosting its fifth annual Box City event Saturday, Oct. 20, to support New Pathways and raise awareness about homelessness in Central Minnesota.

New Pathways, based in Cambridge, serves homeless families with children by providing private sleeping accommodations, three meals a day, case management, skills training and a safe environment. It serves families with children from Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec, Pine and Mille Lacs counties. 

Mary Westlund, program manager and family educator for New Pathways, explained Box City, which will be held at the Isanti County Fairgrounds in Cambridge, involves people spending the night in a cardboard box or tent.

Participants make their own dwelling from cardboard, duct tape, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or whatever they can find, with an award being given for the most creative dwelling.

Westlund explained New Pathways is hoping Box City will raise $20,000 toward operating expenses.

“I feel a community is defined by how they treat those in need,” Westlund said. “In order to have a truly strong community, we need to take care of each other. Box City is about raising awareness and informing people. Together, we can solve this crisis in our community.”

Box City registration materials can be downloaded on the New Pathways Facebook page or you can call Camille at 763-691-0121 or email her at aa@newpathwaysmn.com and ask to have them sent to you. Otherwise, you can stop at their office at 310 Ashland St. So., Cambridge, and pick up the materials.

Participants need to be 18 years of age or older to attend Box City without an adult chaperone. No more than six participants can be registered as a team, and each individual participant is asked to raise $100 (a team of six individuals needs to raise $600).

Registration is requested by Oct. 5 so each participant is guaranteed an event shirt. There will also be door prizes given throughout the evening. Those who register before Oct. 5 will be given a door prize ticket, and if they raise $100, an additional door prize ticket will be given. For each additional $50 raised beyond the initial $100, an additional door prize ticket is given. The main door prize drawing is for a Kindle Fire with a $150 Amazon gift certificate.

Registration can also be done at the Isanti County Fairgrounds from noon to 3 p.m. on the day of the event, with people being able to set up their dwellings beginning at noon.

Westlund explained participants can participate in a variety of games that begin at 3 p.m. focusing on raising awareness about homelessness. Games include a scavenger hunt, couch hopping, dive for a prize, climbing out of poverty and more.

More general type activities include a karaoke contest, bingo, game table, face painting and more. The band Sheltered Reality will perform in the evening.

Westlund said a new activity this year includes making luminary bags that will light up Box City, as well as the playing of inspirational videos. A program will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. that will describe New Pathways, and hearing from a past family who benefitted from the program.

Box City is open to all including individuals, youth groups, corporate groups, service clubs, families, honor societies, scouting groups, 4-H and more. Westlund noted visitors are welcome to walk around the Box City event and observe until midnight.

Westlund explained the Cambridge site Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) partners with 20 area churches to provide sleeping arrangements and meals for homeless families.

The IHN allows for six families, or a maximum of 24 people, to stay at a partner church. The churches take turns throughout the year to host the families for one week at a time.

Westlund explained last year the IHN served 35 families, with 92 families being turned away because the program was full. Since 2000, 410 families, including 537 adults and 743 children, have been served by New Pathways. Also since 2000, 475 families have been turned away because the program was full.

The average family size in the IHN is three people, with 58 days being the average length of stay. Westlund explained 95 percent of the families who leave the IHN move into permanent housing.

Approximately 26 percent of the families in the IHN are from Isanti and Chisago counties, 23 percent from Pine, 20 percent from Mille Lacs, and five percent from Kanabec.

“The need for the Interfaith Hospitality Network is really high in the community and we are continuing to try to meet the needs the best we can,” Westlund said. “The program also involves giving  them the skills they need to get back on their feet. The families in our program really do all the work and make the decisions for themselves that best fits the needs of their families.”

Westlund noted Box City is still looking for business sponsors, with current sponsors including Arrow Tank, East Central Energy, Bremer Bank, Schlagel Inc. and East Central Sanitation.

Westlund said everyone should want to make a difference in the fight against homelessness.

“Each night there are thousands experiencing homelessness in Minnesota,” Westlund said. “There are kids in homeless situations who are so innocent and did nothing wrong to be placed into that lifestyle. We owe it to them to help begin repairing their families. Social problems get solved when we roll up our sleeves and do something about it. There is homelessness in our community and it’s not getting any better. Together, we can make a difference.”

For more information on New Pathways visit www.newpathwaysmn.com or call 763-691-0121. Immediate needs for the program are also posted on the New Pathways Facebook page.

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