Would you be willing to sleep in a box for one night to help raise awareness about homelessness?
New Pathways is hosting its sixth annual Box City event Oct. 26 at the Isanti County Fairgrounds in Cambridge. The event serves as a fundraiser for New Pathways and also raises 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, and is the only homeless shelter within the five-county area with comprehensive support.
Box City 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. Judges for this year’s contest include Gary Shaw, president of Cambridge Medical Center; Tim Dwyer, Cambridge chief of police; and Sean Okerlund, Cambridge fire chief. There will also be an award for the most money raised by a team or individual.
Box City is open to all, including individuals, youth groups, sports teams, corporate groups, service clubs, families, honor societies, scouting groups, 4-H and more. Visitors are welcome to walk around the Box City event and observe until midnight.
Mary Westlund, program manager and family educator for New Pathways, explained that each participant is asked to raise $50 to participate in Box City. Last year, approximately $14,000 was raised from Box City. Westlund is hoping to raise at least that much this year, with all proceeds benefiting the New Pathways Cambridge site program.
“We are staying very busy here at New Pathways,” Westlund said. “We are turning away over double what we can serve, and we don’t anticipate any openings until October. There is definitely a need for our program, and we are the only homeless shelter in the area. If we weren’t here, I don’t know what some families would do. The calls just continue to come in.”
Box City registration materials can be downloaded on the New Pathways Facebook page or, to have them sent to you, call Westlund at 763-691-0121 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, you can stop at their office at 310 Ashland St. S., Cambridge, and pick up the materials.
Registration can also be done at the Isanti County Fairgrounds from noon to 3 p.m. on the day of the event, with participants setting up their dwellings beginning at noon. The event wraps up around 8 a.m. Oct. 27 after the final door prize drawings are done.
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 $50. Registration is requested by Oct. 11 for each participant to be guaranteed an event shirt; however, you don’t need to turn in your $50 registration fee at that time.
“We encourage everyone to come out and have some fun while really make a difference in raising awareness for homelessness,” Westlund said. “We try to have a nice balance of fun and awareness activities. Each participant should know that every dollar they raise will have a direct impact on helping homeless families with children.”
There will also be door prizes given throughout the event. Those who register before Oct. 11 will be given a door prize ticket, and each participant to raise $50 receives a door prize ticket.
For each additional $50 raised beyond the initial $50, an additional door prize ticket is given. The main door prize drawing is a 32-inch smart TV, and there will also be sports memorabilia, gift cards, certificates and other items from local businesses given away as door prizes.
Activities during the event begin at 3 p.m. and include a scavenger hunt, bingo, a karaoke contest and multiple awareness activities to teach participants about the struggles of homelessness. Participants also get door prize tickets for participating in activities.
Westlund noted a new event this year will be partnering with Kids Against Hunger to pack meals for those in need. The National Guard rock wall will be at the event for participants to climb, and Sheltered Reality will be performing again this year. There will also be music and dancing by DJ Karl, and Perkins will be sponsoring a soup kitchen for participants.
“When I participated in Box City for the first time and had to spend the night outside, it really hit me with how devastating homelessness is,” Westlund said. “It really hits home every time we have a family call us and tell us they are living in their car when it’s the middle of winter; or they are living in a fish house or a camper when it’s the middle of summer. I can’t help but go back to that night and remember how uncomfortable and horrible it was.”
This year’s Box City sponsors include Arrow Tank, Schlagel Industries, Perkins, East Central Sanitation and East Central Energy. Westlund said the event sponsors pay for all event costs, so the money raised by participants goes directly toward the Cambridge shelter.
Westlund mentioned the Box City event will be featured during KARE 11’s “Coffee with Kare” broadcast Oct. 22.
Westlund explained the Cambridge site Interfaith Hospitality Network partners with 23 area churches to provide sleeping arrangements and meals for homeless families.
The Network 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 Network served 37 families, with 82 families being turned away because the program was full. Since 2000, 447 families, including 584 adults and 814 children, have been served by New Pathways. Also since 2000, 557 families have been turned away because the program was full.
The average family size in the Network is three people, with 61 days being the average length of stay. Westlund explained 91 percent of the families who leave the Network move into permanent housing.
Approximately 46 percent of the families in the Network are from Isanti County, 19 percent from Mille Lacs County, 16 percent from Chisago County, 11 percent from Kanabec County and 8 percent from Pine County.
For more information on New Pathways, visit www.newpathwaysmn.com or call 763-691-0121. Immediate needs and Box City registration materials can also be found on the New Pathways Facebook page.