As Maggie Stolpe stood in line watching a volunteer mix a large pot of soup with a wooden ladle, the 16-year-old said she felt something stir inside herself: humility.
She, like 91 other middle and high schoolers Friday, was getting her last meal before retiring to Cardboard City, a makeshift collection of cardboard huts spread across the lawn of First Baptist Church of Augusta to simulate the living conditions of the area’s homeless population.
The event was meant to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless and to collect funds for Family Promise of Augusta, an organization dedicated to providing homeless families with shelter, food and free day care while working members seek stable employment.
The students, who were asked to raise $100 for “rent,” represented
the 23 churches in the area that provide housing for Family Promise clients.
“I think it’s really going to humble them and make them realize how blessed they are to have the things they do have,” said Latoya Hardman, the executive director of Family Promise of Augusta. “Maybe it will make them realize that ‘I can do something
different, I can help out in the community.’”
Students began constructing Cardboard City about 4 p.m. Friday and were given just a few hours to build something suitable for an overnight stay.
Between prayer and performances by the First Baptist youth praise band, students heard remarks from Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and from families who completed Family Promise programs locally.
Last year, the organization served 13 adults and 30 children from 11 different families.
“I think it helps to hear their testimony, to see where they’ve been and where they are right now,” Hardman said.
The students were split into two camps: one for the girls and another for the boys. By 6 p.m., most of the girls had completed their structures and were busy decorating the exteriors while the boys kept building their structures taller and wider.
Maggie and her brother Gabriel stuck to a simple three-sided structure that measured about a foot tall and a foot wide at the base. Her sleeping arrangement consisted of nothing more than a foam pad and a sleeping bag.
She jumped at the opportunity to undergo the homeless experience because she said there weren’t enough people aware that it exists here.
“When we think of poor people, we think of people in Africa,” said Maggie, a St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church parishioner. “I don’t think people realize we have homeless right outside our front door. I think it’s a great way to awaken people to the reality of homelessness.”
Bradley Medford, a student pastor at Quest Church, stayed in one of the grander structures in Cardboard City. His shelter was a tarp-lined box big enough to sleep five. For him, braving the cold for a night was worth the cause.
“We’re doing it because we know the benefit far outweighs the momentary discomfort,” he said. “What we’re doing tonight is a taste. It’s the luxurious version of what a lot of folks around the city experience.”