Temperatures overnight Friday into early Saturday morning were a bit on the chilly side. For several dozen students camped out on the Escalon High School football field, it provided a bit of an awakening.
The students, from EHS and several other schools in San Joaquin County and the surrounding area, settled in for a night of simulating homelessness, constructing shelters out of cardboard boxes, bringing in sleeping bags and blankets for a campout with a purpose.
The goal of the annual “Kids in a Box” program is to raise money for the Haven of Peace women and children’s shelter in San Joaquin County and to raise awareness at the local level regarding the homeless issue.
“I give credit to all the kids, taking the time, coming out here and giving back to the community,” said Haven of Peace Executive Director Olga Rodriguez. “They are experiencing what the homeless people are experiencing on a daily basis.”
For the Kids in a Box participants, they spend the night on the football field but do have dinner provided by the sponsoring Rotary Clubs, the local event spearheaded by the Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club. For one night, they settle down with just a cardboard box for protection, but enjoy the camaraderie of fellow students and also get creative with decorating and design. It’s fun with an underlying serious message and, after enjoying dinner, some music, special activities and games, they try to grab a few hours’ sleep in their makeshift shelters.
With temperatures dropping down into the 50s, they got just a small taste of how difficult it can be to find restful sleep on the streets.
Interact Club, the youth arm of Rotary, was the lead organization out of EHS at the event. Club advisor Elizabeth Baldwin said 17 Escalon students were expected to participate, and more than 100 students in total were registered, representing several schools.
Among them were Stagg, Edison, Gregori, Salida Middle School, Sierra Middle School and John McCandless Elementary, a STEM school. The event is open to students ages 7 and up, with adult supervision.
“Around 4 a.m. they fall asleep,” Baldwin said of the typical Kids in a Box schedule, with students finally getting a few hours of down time before they are awakened for a continental breakfast about 7 a.m.
EHS senior Nora Sanchez was back for a second year at the overnight event.
“It was really cold last year,” she remembered. “It was just fun, enjoying the other schools.”
“I’m hoping to interact with the other schools, gain some new friends,” added fellow senior Heidy Medina.
Interact Club secretary Hector Rodriguez, a senior, said the overall goal of the event is an important one.
“I came to support the mission of the Haven of Peace, help women and children in need,” he said.
Students started arriving and setting up their makeshift homes around 4 p.m. Friday and by 6:30 p.m., many of them were starting to take shape, right down to some decorative touches. Then the crowd of students was gathered to hear some words from Rodriguez, who shared information about the Haven of Peace and its work within the community.
“I bless them for having the willingness, not everyone is willing,” she said of the students giving up their Friday night – whether they would be at the movies or just spending time with friends in a warm, cozy home – to camp out on a cold football field. “I give God thanks for each and every one of them, they have a giving heart.”
Rodriguez also praised the local Rotary clubs that support the Haven of Peace and have done so for many years. Money raised by pledges collected by participants directly benefits the Haven of Peace, which is in French Camp. The shelter for women and children has been in existence for 58 years, said Rodriguez.
“Haven of Peace provides not only a roof over their head but food, and clothing, we also have classes … classes on budgeting, life skills, nutrition,” Rodriguez explained of providing assistance to help women and children get back on their feet.
“We have many businesses, churches, organizations coming in to help,” she added. “It doesn’t matter how small a donation is, it makes a difference.”
Also addressing the students was Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club member and Rotary District Governor Ray Caparros.
“You are bringing help to people who need the help,” Caparros noted.
Each of the participating schools came to the event as part of an Interact Club through their school or with a sponsoring Rotary Club in their community. Though primarily high school age, there were some younger students who also were eager to take part.
Rodriguez extended an invitation to all to come and tour the Haven and see how their efforts support the shelter.
“My gratitude on behalf of the homeless women and children is endless,” Rodriguez said. “God bless the Rotary Clubs for all they do and may God bless each and every one of the kids in the box.”