PDP: Cardboard City

Section: Serving the Greater Good

What a night of conflicting emotions and perspectives.

No, I’m not talking interpersonally, I’m talking an I’m-Playing-Mario-Kart’s-Rainbow-Road-Course-For-The-First-Time mixture of emotions that grew and faded throughout the entire night inside just my brain alone.

Let us frame the scene with a few facts about me:

  1. I have Raynaud’s Syndrome; also referred to as Raynaud’s phenomenon. Basically, I have bad circulation, but only in my fingers and toes. I also call it, ‘I whine when I’m cold.”
  2. I currently am overcoming the ‘aches and pains’ influenza. My throat is sore as well, and my nose is more stuffed than a Thanksgiving turkey.
  3. I never had a bloody nose until last night.
  4. I have to shift to the left side of my body to comfortably sit, due to an ailment I shan’t disclose due to the discomfort it would cause both you and I, dear reader. My back hasn’t been happy about this development, but we’re going to deal until it heals.

Now, we begin. If you aren’t aware of what Cardboard City is and what it stands for, here’s a little overview. Cardboard City seeks to bring awareness to hunger and homelessness within the United States. By decorating cardboard boxes with related statistics and then spending a 12-hour vigil within them, the event’s participants get a small taste of what it’s like to be living without a roof over their heads as the temperature begins to drop.

Now, I do have some qualms with the event itself. I participated in the event from 7:30pm – 12 am, and the most riveting information I garnered from my ‘service’ came in the form of narratives from members of the community who have taken part in attacking the root causes of homelessness and homelessness directly. Mind that this was within the first half hour, and was the most information-dense portion of the whole night. I signed up for this activity thinking that I would grapple positively through suffering in the cold night within my small cardboard box, and exit the event feeling an incredible sense of empathy for hungry and homeless individuals that I hadn’t felt before. This didn’t happen. The community volunteer leaders spoke up regarding statistics that explained the roots of homelessness (I learned that domestic abuse was a big one – financial, emotional, and physical abuse can push domestic abuse survivors onto the streets), and another volunteer speaker explained his experience with homelessness from the time he was twelve to age twenty. My awareness of the issue was raised profoundly, due to the fact that my initial reservoir of knowledge on the topic was static at a very low volume for most of my life, but nothing else expanded from that point.

The rest of the night was… well, it was fun. I felt guilty. Here we were, raising awareness for homelessness, and we’re having the times of our lives playing frisbee, huddling over guitars in song circles, exploring campus in all its glowing beauty at night – it just felt wrong. It wasn’t all for naught, of course, since we were learning in the process with statistical information and from the narratives earlier in the evening, but other than the temperature dropping, Cardboard City wasn’t all too uncomfortable.

I have little issue with the night other than the fact it felt more like a slumber party with social justice information thrown in than a service project. I honestly did have a great time during the event, and I’ll focus on that rather than on the negatives. Mingling with everyone and seeing their cardboard creations was really interesting and some people really got into the spirit and began using makeshift pillars in order to hold up otherwise slouching ceilings.

I’m planning on participating next year, and I might even edge myself into the planning committee in order to offer up ideas that may improve the learning part of the experience. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, no, of course not. However, everything always has room to improve, and the importance of homelessness awareness is worth dedicating some time to.

Much love,


(Photo courtesy of Emily Crombez)

(Cover photo courtesy of Josh Barnhart)

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