Wrapped up in the happenings of one’s own college life, it’s easy to lose sight of what goes on beyond the College’s bubble. On Tuesday, Nov. 16, students decided to walk in the shoes of those in poverty — or in this case, sleep in their boxes.
The Brower Student Center Atrium was transformed into a cardboard community during “Box City: A Homeless Simulation,” an event for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week presented by the Coalition for Change (CFC).
“We’re hoping people are uncomfortable,” Micaela Ensminger, junior English and secondary education major, said. “And that people realize the hardships (those in poverty face) and that this sticks with them and moves them in a positive way.”
Ensminger founded CFC on campus, which is an alliance of the College’s multicultural, fraternal and religious organizations.The Bonner Center, Habitat for Humanity and Women in Learning and Leadership are also involved with CFC.
“The purpose of the week is to raise awareness of the issues that surround poverty,” Ensminger said. “These issues affect millions of people and are often ignored so we’re giving them some face time this week. We want to show (the College’s) campus the power of working together and inspire them to take up their own activism.”
Many organizations and individuals came together to create the Box City neighborhood. Each group was given at least one box, which would become their “home” for the evening and they used glitter, markers and spray paint to decorate.
Franklin Tapia, junior interdisciplinary business major and brother of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., said, “I come from an impoverished area. The people I spent my time (growing up) with were of that nature. I think it’s a great cause. I thought, ‘How could I be coming from where I come from and not take part in this?’ ”
Kafele Boothe, senior international business major and member of the Bahá’í Campus Association, took a marker and wrote the phrase “You must love and be kind to everybody, care for the poor, protect the weak, heal the sick, and educate the ignorant” across the cardboard.
“I’m decorating the box with quotes from the Bahá’í faith about poverty. (The religion) is about the oneness of humanity. This whole week is in line with what the Bahá’í Campus Association stands for, so (our involvement) is a natural thing,” Boothe said. “I’m really glad people came out. When you talk about hanging out in boxes, most college kids don’t want to do that.”
Each group took the identity of a hypothetical family in poverty to “put names and purpose behind the statistics and issues,” Ensminger said.
Hillel represented the fictional Jacobi family’s situation: Joyce Jacobi, a 19-year-old high-school dropout, lives with her one-year-old son Josh. She rents a mobile home and pays for a spot in Lot 4 of 863 Apple Street. Jacobi’s father doesn’t pay child support and an income of $278 per month in cash benefits and $150 in food stamps from the government is not enough to cover the monthly costs of $425 for housing and utilities, plus $55 for food per week.
“We’ve been involved with the CFC since its inception last year and try to have a representative at each meeting,” said Evan Greenberger, senior philosophy major, of Hillel’s involvement in the event. Hillel decorated their box with blue and gold paint, and drew a Star of David and menorah on its side.
Patrons and artists from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) shared poems and music. The Funktastics, a band of TASK patrons, performed original songs.
“The Funktastics were really powerful. They were such selfless, creative individuals even though they come from rough backgrounds. It’s really inspiring. It was the highlight of the night,” Ensminger said.
Other activities included a soup line simulation and a letter writing campaign, asking state legislators to support tax credits benefiting low-income families.
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week occurs annually and nationwide during the week before Thanksgiving. This is the second year the College has had its own adaptation.
“During my freshman year we just had the Hunger Banquet,” said Rana Shariatdoust, junior economics and political science major.Then (Carolina Chica, junior communications studies and women’s and gender studies double major) and I met Micaela (last year). Slowly it’s evolved. One event that was just the Hunger Banquet became a week, and now it’s the second annual. It’s a cause that’s bigger than all of us.”
Shariatdoust and Ensminger, along with Carolina Chica, were the driving forces in making the week happen. Other events included a film screening of “Precious” and an event entitled “Perform Against Poverty.”
“We had a really diverse group of people and had to compete with other events going on,” Shariatdoust said. “After talking to the people here, I think we got our point across. And now we have some people who want to sleep in the rain.”
The event was originally scheduled to happen on the lawn Travers and Wolfe Halls, but weather interfered.
“We had it in the student center because of rain, but people who are impoverished don’t have that option,” Boothe said.
Although planned activities concluded around 10 p.m., wet grass didn’t stop members of Unión Latina from leaving behind their beds, and spending the night on the T/W lawn.
Unión Latina’s box was adorned with phrases about strength in unity. With glitter and paint, it read: “As strong as you are, united we are stronger.”