Box City brings attention to local homelessness ‘problem’

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Cooper Mackey, 6, and his brother Jackson Mackey, 10, work on getting their cardboard box camp for the evening set up during the Box City event for Family Promise of Lycoming County and American Rescue Workers at Lycoming College campus on Friday. Participants slept in cardboard boxes overnight in order to promote awareness for homelessness.

In an effort to bring awareness to homelessness, American Rescue Workers and Family Promise of Lycoming County joined forces in hosting the Box City event for the first time together at Lycoming College campus on Friday.

“The American Rescue Workers have been doing it for five years, we’ve done five years … but this is the first year we’ve done it together,” said Melissa Magargle, executive director of Family Promise of Lycoming County. “We’re all serving the homeless population. Some people think we’re in competition, but we’re not … The idea of

coming together, making one giant event, getting the awareness out and raising money together seemed like a no-brainer.”

Participants for the event paid for tickets to come out to a field where they set up temporary

cardboard structures to let them camp out for the evening in the elements. The event went from 6 p.m. Friday evening until 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

“Everyone grabs a box, and there’s a whole lot of duct tape … City Alliance Church created hand warming packs to encourage people for what they’re doing tonight for awareness,” Magargle said.

A few people talked about homelessness, there was some music entertainment and food for participants. There were even some burn barrels set up on the field. Those who were sleeping outside were also encouraged to get sponsors to help provide a little extra to raise money for those who actually suffer from homelessness in the area.

“At 10 p.m., we turn off the lights, and everyone experiences what it’s like to be out in the elements in a box,” Magargle said.

She said the event was about who Family Promise is as a company as well as the people they serve.

“When you look at the campus and see a whole field of boxes, it kind of makes people realize that although you don’t see them in their boxes, they’re there. The same goes for people that are homeless,” she said. “They won’t be in front of our faces, they’ll be hidden under bridges. We had people in train cars, in garages, doubled up three families in one home, you don’t see that … it’s there. We have a problem in our county, in our state, that isn’t going away. People need to be aware of that.”

Valerie Fessler, community engagement and development officer for the American Rescue Workers, said that the event itself was about bringing awareness to the community.

“Really, we use our money to benefit our Saving Grace Shelter, and that shelter truly needs those dollars to keep the doors open,” she said. “We really need the support for that reason.”

Fessler said that sometimes homelessness can be overlooked because those who suffer from it are not always visible to anyone else.

“This is a real need, and it’s sort of a hidden problem that people don’t necessarily see. It’s a real problem in our community,” she said.

Katie Mackey, of the city, came out to participate with her sons, Jackson Mackey, 10, and Cooper Mackey, 6.

“I have volunteered for Family Promise in the past and have seen how the organization assists families in our community, so I wanted to share our support through raising money for a great cause,” she said.

She said helping her local community was important to her and her family.

Cooper said he was looking forward to the event because it seemed like fun.

“We decided to involve our children in the hopes of introducing and exposing them to the importance of serving our community. We asked for donations in our neighborhood and raised money to assist with the mission of Family Promise and American Rescue Workers,” Katie Mackey said. “Children are often unaware of the greater needs outside of their world, and through this experience, they will hopefully get a short introduction on serving and helping others.”

Brianna Laslette and Bethany Young, both Lycoming College freshman, said they came out because they wanted to promote awareness in the community.

“We both made GoFundMe apps to try to raise money for it,” Laslette said. “It raises awareness for a really serious thing that’s happening in America and all over the globe.”

Young said that people don’t believe that it’s an actual problem.

“People often look over it because it’s not happening to them,” she said. “Doing things like this raises awareness that it actually happens.”

Laslette said it’s important to know how fortunate people are who are not homeless.

“No one realizes how lucky you are, and I feel like having something like this helps you understand it,” she said.

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