Cheese, Saltines, and an Apple

July 26, 2017

I am currently on vacation. In my absence, I will be re-posting popular blog posts from the past. This blog is now in it’s fifth year! The posts I’ll be sharing with you while I am away come from my first year of writing daily on the From The Deacon’s Desk site.

The following is a reflection I wrote several years ago during our school’s homeless simulation, “Cardboard City.”

As I write this letter, it is 3:00 on Wednesday morning – my turn to “stand watch.” I am outside with a few other adults and thirty-five of our students, participating in a homeless simulation, Cardboard City. The purpose is to give the kids a small glimpse of what it is like to be homeless.

The kids were given a packing list. They could layer clothing to handle the 37-degree temperatures. They could bring a sleeping bag or pillow, but not both. They were allowed a toothbrush or toothpaste, but not both. They could bring no food or drinks, and their cell phones were collected.

After the students checked in, we started our evening in the chapel. I shared some of my experiences of working with the homeless over the past 3-1/2 years. My wife (and BCHS Campus Minister) Carol then led a guided meditation. She took the kids on a journey in which they encountered Jesus among the homeless. Jesus welcomed them and introduced them to His homeless friends. He assured them that He loved them, and made sure they understood that He loved the homeless every bit as much.

Afterward, it was back outside. The kids were given some cheese, six saltines, and an apple, which was to last them until lunch the next day. There was a water fountain near by for their use. As for shelter, they were given a piece of cardboard, a roll of plastic, a tarp, or a roll of duct tape. Some of the kids were given just one of these items, while some received multiple items. A small number of kids were given none of these items, but given extra food and encouraged to barter for the other items they might need.

The kids quickly learned community and combined resources to build shelters that could house several students (guys and girls in separate areas, of course). Once their shelters were built, we welcomed a special guest. Robert is a gentlemen who was homeless himself for several years. He shared his story with the kids and answered all of their questions. Faith and reliance on others got him through the tough times, he said. He now has a full-time job and a studio apartment, and “finds joy in daily life.”

The kids then took time to get their homework done. We ended the evening back in the chapel with Adoration and benediction. They returned to camp and crawled into their shelters for the night.

In a few hours we will wake them up. We’ll head back to the chapel to pray the Rosary together. The kids will clean up their area and pack up their shelters. They will wash up as best they can with their limited resources. They won’t change clothes, but will instead head into school a bit disheveled and hungry, as homeless children do.

They will wear a fluorescent band on their arms throughout the day, signaling to others that they were a part of Cardboard City, and hopefully share their experience with their friends and classmates.

I am humbled to be a part of a school community that would offer such an opportunity to its young people. I am so proud that thirty-five of our students wanted to be a part of it. These awesome kids paid $20.00, plus brought a donation of socks and underwear for the homeless, in exchange for sleeping outside on a windy, sub-40 degree night with no food and none of the comforts of home.

But they didn’t do it to be comfortable. They did it to experience an evening of communal prayer and solidarity with those less fortunate. They did it to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They did it so that Jesus could introduce them to His homeless friends and assure them of His love for all of His children.


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