A cardboard box. A winter’s night. And 500 people raising awareness for the nearly 1,000 homeless men and women in Champaign-Urbana.
This is the setting for One Winter Night, which was held on February 3, in downtown Champaign where Mahomet residents, David and Keaton Roberts (fifth grade) learned about the plight of the homeless and realized they can do more to help.
“I was expecting it to be cold out, but since I’d never done (One Winter Night) before, I didn’t really know what to expect,” David said. “When we got there, we learned a lot.”
David decided to participate in One Winter Night when he met Melany Jackson at a Champaign County Chamber Event. Jackson, founder of CU at Home and One Winter Night. Jackson sold all her possessions to connect with and provide for Champaign-Urbana’s homeless years ago. After living at Restoration Urban Ministries for 18 months, Jackson continues to live a homeless life, while also providing advocacy, resources and opportunities for homeless in need.
“I don’t think most people would have enough courage to do that,” David said. “I met her a few times at Chamber events, and I didn’t know much about her. After I watched the documentary, “The Phoenix: Hope Is Rising,” I knew more about her and I gained a respect for what she’s given up and what she does for these people.”
David began by asking family and friends to help him fundraise on Facebook to be a part of One Winter Night. The Sunday before the event, he saw no one had donated, but over the next five days he collected $700, and was able to raise the final $300 during the event.
One Winter Night hopes to raise $200,000 by the end of the night. When David and Keaton arrived at the event, there was $142,000 raised and by 3:30 a.m., they had raised $195,000. According to the C-U at Home website, the $200,000 mark has been reached.
The father and son duo slept in a refrigerator cardboard box alongside 200 other fundraisers on the 3rd. They still had many comforts that the homeless community does not have, though. They brought a sleeping bag that protects in temperatures at -20 degrees and clothes, including gloves and hats and blankets. They noticed that they were the only participants who did not have a tarp to put over their box.
While they said sleeping in the box was not much different than sleeping in a tent, it is was different because “people are looking out the windows (of restaurants) while they are eating their good food and their drinks. Then you can smell the steak cooking across the street. And here we are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
They also noticed that they did not get much sleep because downtown is lively with parties and music into the wee hours of the night.
“It gives an understanding of why we often see homeless people sleeping during the day,” David said.
Keaton enjoyed hearing different perspectives on homelessness from the speakers, which included law enforcement and those who were formerly homeless.
“They are now giving back because they spent so many years not contributing to society, and now they are helping,” Keaton said.
He added that learning about the cycle of poverty, addiction and homelessness helped him understand more about why some people are in and others get stuck in homelessness.
Through the exposure to stories of the homeless population, the entire Roberts family is now ready to get more involved. Although their sons are under the age of 14 and not able to serve food, David reached out to Jackson to ask about other ways they could get involved. David also said he wants to buy coats, hats, shoes and clothes for homeless people.
Keaton said he will participate in One Winter Night again next year, and encourage his friends to do so, too.