This past weekend I spent the night in a cardboard box and didn’t eat for 30 hours. Why would someone do something like this? I did it because we took the teens at my church through a program called the 30 Hour Famine. On Friday, 8 May 2009, at 10:00a we told all of the teens to stop eating and that on Saturday, 9 May 2009, at 4:00p we would have a feast together, and then we would stay the night at the church by sleeping in cardboard boxes on the front porch. We did this to give all of us a very small taste of what it is like to be homeless.
I had no problems with the 30 hour fast because I have done a 40 day fast twice before several years ago. The hard part for me was the idea of sleeping outside in a cardboard box. Friday night there was a chance of rain and the nighttime temps were expected to dip into the upper 40’s. People who know me, know that I hate cold weather, so this thought did not thrill me. However, I wanted to simulate homelessness the best I could so I refused to bring a sleeping bag or pillow. Instead I came with two jackets and a hoodie. One of the jackets served as my “pillow” and the other one I wore. I also came with an older, ratty tarp that I had in my garage in case it rained. That is my “home” for the night in the picture on the left.
Fortunately it did not rain but it was cold! I woke up a couple times in the night because I was cold and uncomfortable. All night long and the next day I thought about how hard it must be for homeless people to live like they do and I had it easy because it was for only one night and I had a bathroom nearby. Not to mention that I also had somewhat of a shelter and some homeless people don’t.
But what impacted me more than anything was the poverty simulation that we did on Saturday. The church had coordinated to do this program that Saturday with the teens doing the 30 Hour Famine. There was a sign up for two times, yet there wasn’t enough people to sign up for it to fill up one time slot so they had the teens go through it as well. I am glad they did!
It was really eye opening as to what a person who lives below poverty level has to go through just to survive. The entire program last about three hours with the simulation being only about 1 hour of it, which simulated one month in the life of a real person who lives below the poverty level. Yes, you read that right. Each of these people that we portrayed is a real person who lives in Missouri that the Missouri Association for Community Action has helped out.
I was an 85 year old widower, who owned his own home, but lived on Social Security and had to pay for my mortgage, utilities, groceries, medication and travel. The amount that this man gets in Social Security doesn’t even cover these basic needs, so I had to figure out what resources were out there that could help me. It was a lot harder than I thought! You only get one hour, which represents one month and breaks down to 15 minutes for each week, to try and get all of this done in. As the “weeks” rolled on I found myself getting frustrated by the fact that I had to do this all by myself and other people at least had someone to help them out. I made the mistake of not getting a receipt when I paid my utilities and so the person I paid must have pocketed the money and my utilities got shut off as a result. Otherwise, I was able to accomplish everything I needed to do. But when you have no electricity or heat, does it matter?
I would highly recommend every church to do this poverty simulation. It is really eye opening and will help people to understand in a greater way the poverty problem here in our country. But don’t just do the simulation. Get involved in helping people after you are done.