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Teens experience the bitter cold realities of homelessness


In the cold, in the dark, they huddled in their boxes. They had only a few snacks to keep them from being hungry. Some got more than others, but no one got enough. 

This was the enlightening experience of 28 members of the Immaculate Conception Youth program who took part in the East Aurora parish’s 12th annual Boxtopia on Oct. 16. The event raised awareness of the plight of the homeless and served as a food drive to stock the Response to Love Center.

Participants gathered around 7 p.m. in the school parking lot to build makeshift homes out of cardboard boxes and blankets. They had little else to protect them from the cold 52-degree night.

The format usually includes an all-night stay in their fragile homes, but due to Covid-19 restrictions the evening closed at 11 p.m.

“It’s been very eye opening and very cold,” said Abigail Kopf, 13. “It’s really informative.”

This is Kopf’s second year participating in Boxtopia, which is open to seventh- and eighth-graders. 

“You really learn what it’s like to not sleep in your bed. That was definitely an interesting thing. Then it got really cold and we were hungry. We still had each other, but it wasn’t like being inside in this kind of weather,” she explained. “It helped that we had the support of our friends to get through the night. It’s emotionally draining.”

Anne Viger and Novella Keen use some duct tape to hold a tarp onto the cardboard box that will serve as their shelter for the next few hours. The two teens took part in Immaculate Conception Parish’s Boxtopia 2020.

“It would be a lot harder if we had to do this by ourselves,” added Amelia Jakubczak.

The teens received soup and bread, soup kitchen style, in the school gym at 10 p.m.

“They give it to us closer to the end than the beginning, so you’re really hungry for a good hour. Everybody is just waiting for soup. It’s a different experience when you don’t have a fridge you can just go get a snack in,” Kopf said.

Looking back on how she has changed since last year’s event, Kopf said, “I definitely wasted less food. I see it in a different outlook. I realize how lucky I am to have a house and a bed and a fridge.”

This is also the second year Jakubczak, 14, has participated. She recalled last year’s event when she did stay all night.

“Last year, I fell asleep at four in the morning, so it was not very easy.” Especially, when everyone has to get up at 6 a.m. for hot chocolate. Then, its clean up and wait for their parents pick them up. “Everyone is extremely tired and feeling like zombies. It’s very slow,” she remembered. “It was not the easiest to go through. I was very eye opening and it showed me how lucky me and my friends are to have houses and food and not have to go through the struggle of living in a box and begging for food. It’s crazy how many people live like this.”

A new aspect this year was a disproportionate food distribution. The kids got snacks, but some got more than others. This represents the disproportionate way food, money and other resources are distributed in the world.

“That showed that not everyone is going to get the same things in life,” explained Colton Warner. “Those who are fortunate to have a lot of food should donate a little bit of it to those who are not as fortunate.”

The 12-year-old Warner was near the bottom of the food chain when the snacks were handed out. He experienced the same range of emotions that the less fortunate have when they face perceived injustices.

“You’re kind of sad because you don’t have a lot of food and you’re hungry and there’s others who aren’t hungry because they got a lot of food. In a way, it kind of makes you jealous,” he said.

The event collected $180 in gift cards along with 20 shopping bags full of non-perishable food items.