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Sunday, October 24, 2010

St. Luke Youth Group Boxed In For the Night

St. Luke Youth Group 
Boxed In For the Night:
Church event raises 
awareness for homeless
(Appeared in Westport News 10/24)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Westport, CT – If you weren’t aware of the event activity, you’d think a sanitation truck had left a few boxes behind in St. Luke Church’s 84 Long Lots Road parking lot. On closer inspection, you would realize that these were temporary shelters and had been purposely placed there.

The boxes, some twenty structures in all, were erected by 30 teenagers who are part of St. Luke’s Youth Group. The teens planned to spend the overnight in these structures in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of an estimated 33,000 homeless individuals residing in Connecticut and to help drive food donations for Fairfield’s Operation Hope.

“My son goes to Osborn Hill and, noting his school’s efforts with Operation Hope, I decided to see what else we could do to help going into the holiday season,” said St. Luke Youth Program Director Deb Toner.

“The project idea ‘Outside of the Box’ was initiated about a year and a half ago, but we wanted to wait until the temperatures dropped so we could experience what it would be like to not have a warm home… and proper meal,” added Toner.

Toner noted that “building” materials were limited to a box, tape and spray paint, while food supplies would be water and hot dogs only for 12 hours. Toner said the food restriction would be “tough for teenagers” and “if anyone brings candy or breaks the restriction, they would have to go in the penalty box.”

The food drive had already been initiated on October 17 and would continue through the 25th. All donated food will be trucked to Operation Hope’s 50 Nichols Street shelter facility to benefit its residents. The items most needed, which are being collected at St. Luke, include beans, canned tomatoes, cake mixes, powdered milk, canned meats and stews. A full list of needs is available on the organization’s website:

Timmy Jeanneret, 15, was busy putting last minute touches on his box structure. He had bought three 20”x20”x20” Fed Ex boxes and was taping them together. “I’m going to slide right in and close both ends. It should hopefully be warm. I brought some extra clothing to add onto what I’m wearing,” he said.

Project Co-Organizer and Norwalk resident Allison Love said some of the students would be sharing boxes, for warmth, and that a bonfire was planned, around which students will sit and roast their hot dogs.

Jill Toner, 15, Deb’s daughter, was unraveling a sleeping bag in which she planned to sleep inside her box. She had created a little tree with a welcome sign outside its entrance. Her box home was massive – a Samsung refrigerator box in its past life. On its top side, she had spray painted “Out of the Box” and, on one side, the names of some of her fellow participating students.

“I’m very excited about this,” said Jill. “It’s something new. I think it’ll be really fun. Of course, I couldn’t imagine living like this and it makes me feel for the people that have to, especially in the cold.”

Project Captain Emily Hanrahan, 16, a Staples High School student, was settling into her own box. It, too, was massive, having housed a Kohler whirlpool bathtub. She had spray painted it with graffiti but had also handrawn a scene she had dubbed “Boxville”, which in essence referred to this temporary community that the students had formed. She planned to room with Co-Project Leader Elizabeth Driscoll.

“It’s a wake-up call for all of us to realize there are so many homeless. I think it’s going to be hard to spend the overnight outside. It will be a challenge, but fun. I think it’s supposed to drop to 40 degrees,” guessed Hanrahan.

Deb Toner noted that today, October 23, was Westport Make-A-Difference Day, which is how the event day was selected. She added that the Youth Group’s good deeds also include such efforts as an annual mission trip, wherein students travel to other communities to bond with other Catholic teens, paint houses and help in soup kitchens.

The Youth Group was formed four years ago and has gone from 5 to 54 students, with 40 students participating at any given time. “We have a very high participation rate,” said Toner. “The fact that they’re coming on their own… it’s fantastic.”

Pumpkin Carving Fun at Fairfield Museum

Pumpkin Carving Fun 
at Fairfield Museum
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Red cheeks and bright orange pumpkins. These were the most apparent images at Fairfield Museum and History Center early Saturday afternoon October 23 when two dozen children and their parents came together for pumpkin carving fun sponsored by the Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm.

In a grassy, sunny corner just outside a classroom space at the museum, four long tables had been set out and covered with bright yellow plastic tablecloths. Each table featured a plastic bowl and big spoons for seed scooping and pumpkin “guts” collection. There were also a variety of stencils available – essentially black and white images on copy paper of hissing cats, ghosts, scary faces and bats. A small container of pushpins was provided for tacking stencils on the front face of pumpkins. A larger container of Sharpie pens stood at the ready for carvers that chose to go a non-stencil route.

Of course, the stars of the show were the pumpkins themselves, which had been donated by Greenfield Farms. Twenty of these had been set on a carpet of crunchy leaves, scrubbed clean with soapy sponges and awaited eager carvers.

Assisting with the hour-long event were museum workers Walter Matis, Programming Volunteer Coordinator, and Christine Jewell, Director of Education and Public Programs. They were joined by Matis’ wife Sharon Hsu and representatives from the Teaching Farm including Vice President Jennifer Cole and Secretary Beth Bradley. Analiese Paik, Founder of Fairfield Green Food Guide, was also on hand.

Reached by phone, Teaching Farm President Pamela Jones, Esq., said, “We are very excited to co-sponsor the pumpkin carving. This is the farm’s first activity with the museum and we’re looking forward to undertaking other activities with them. We’re also excited to bring local native produce to students.”

The Teaching Farm is currently negotiating with the town for its own space in which to start a four-season micro farm. In the meantime, it is already cultivating produce in various locations around town. The Farm’s mission is to celebrate Fairfield’s agrarian roots and provide a demo farm for Fairfielders to learn sustainable farming practices. It is currently working with the Fairfield Woods Library to start an heirloom seed bank and library so Fairfielders will be able to plant and grow produce from provided seeds.

“I’m doing a ghost,” said Donna Drive resident Tommy Quinn, 14, freehand drawing an image on his pumpkin from a stencil. “I plan to put it on the front steps with three others there.”

Said Quinn’s mom Linda, “We’re members of the museum and had seen a flyer attached to a school e-blast. They (son Tommy; daughter Mary, 11; and their friend Katie, 12) love to carve. They look forward to doing this every year, usually at home. It’s exciting to do it somewhere else.”

Sungkey Paik and his sons Andrew, 11, and Phillip, 7, had pinned a cat stencil to a pumpkin and were pricking holes to provide cutting guidelines. He explained that his wife Analiese’s Fairfield Green Food Guide has a strong parallel with the Teaching Farm as an online resource for local and sustainably grown food ranging from local farm stands to farm-to-table restaurants.

Karen Capponi and daughter Isabella, 7, were also stenciling a cat face on their pumpkin. “I hope it turns out like a cat. We’ll see when we’re done!” the Holland Hill area mom said.

Mary Baker and children Sarah, 7, and Collin, 9, were carving a moon and stars pattern. “The kids really like old-fashioned activities like this instead of watching TV.”

A dad in the pack, Bernie Kelley, worked with daughter Kelley, 7, and her friend Chloe, 5, on an original carving. They had walked over from Kelley’s soccer game held on an adjacent field. He summed up the general feeling here, saying, “It’s really a lot of fun… and what a beautiful day!”