For six years, Millikin University's Box City event has not only kicked off National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, but has provided students with eye-opening experiences.
Millikin's Human Service Connection and the Macon County Continuum of Care hosted its 6th annual Box City event on Nov. 13. As part of the event, Millikin students spent the evening outside in cardboard boxes to simulate an accurate perspective on homelessness.
The event, held on Millikin's Miller Quad, was part of Millikin's #END Campaign to help bring hunger and homelessness awareness to the local community. About 50 people participated, each donating one nonperishable food item.
"Being our sixth year, I think we've gained momentum on campus with supporting the awareness of homelessness," said Mary Garrison, Millikin associate professor and licensed clinical social worker . "Box City provides an understanding through simulation. My hope is that folks will open their minds to what homelessness looks like and how they might be able to help in their home communities."
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Box City participants walked to the Salvation Army's shelter in Decatur, Ill., to have breakfast. A few individuals from the shelter shared their experiences with the Millikin students.
Steven Greathouse, a senior human services major from Seymour, Ind., has been involved with Box City each year during his time at Millikin.
"It's completely changed the way I think and the way I interact with people," said Greathouse. "I didn't have much knowledge on the homeless population until I attended Box City during my freshman year. I knew and discovered the passion that I had for helping people after that first experience. I keep reminding myself that this is something people go through every day."
In addition to Box City, Millikin's Human Service Connection, Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (ISE) and the Macon County Continuum of Care will be hosting a screening of the documentary "The Homestretch" on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Avon Theater, located at 426 N. Water St. in Decatur. The screening will start at 7 p.m. "The Homestretch" follows three homeless teens as they fight to stay in school, graduate, and build a future.
"As citizens we have a responsibility to know about these issues," said Garrison. "Over the last six years, I think Box City has caught on and I think it's a wonderful way to engage in Performance Learning. Whether you're a human services major or a biology student, it's a way for folks to connect."
National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is held each year the week before Thanksgiving. It is a time to share compassion with our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit nationalhomeless.org/about-us/projects/awareness-week.