Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star
Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons and her daughter, Shayla, 9, along with students and faculty, spent Friday night in boxes on campus as part of a fundraiser for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) program, which provides area homeless a warm place to sleep during the winter.
On Friday night, Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons snuggled into her presidential suite — the name students gave the large cardboard box that would serve as her sleeping quarters for the night.
From 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, Fitzsimmons and about 40 others — including students, alumni, trustees and faculty — slept in boxes and tents on SU’s campus to raise money and awareness for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) program.
WATTS is a 16-week program involving local churches that provides homeless individuals with meals and a place to stay overnight. It starts Nov. 26 at Welltown United Methodist Church and runs to March 31.
Although the intention was to brave the elements, the temperature on Friday only got as low as 48 degrees.
“Although I hate the cold, I wish it were colder,” said Fitzsimmons, who shared the box with her 9-year-old daughter, Shayla. “Just to help us have a stronger sense of what it would be like to be homeless.”
The Living in a Box event was organized by Dean of Spiritual Life Justin Allen and senior Alex Woody, who was inspired by the homeless community and churches in the program.
“This is something that gets the community involved and makes everyone a family,” she said.
Since 2011, SU’s Office of Spiritual Life, using money from its own budget, has partnered with its food service company, Sodexo, to provide food for WATTS every Sunday.
The goal of Living in a Box is to raise enough funds so that meals can be purchased for WATTS for years to come without using money from the Spiritual Life department.
Each participant at Friday’s event started out with a T-shirt, shorts, socks, a water bottle and shoes.
To be able to use more comfortable amenities such as pillows, blankets and sleeping bags, they had to donate or raise money.
To use a sleeping bag, participants had to raise $15. For a cell phone, the price increased to $25.
Not only did the project net its goal of $5,000, but students also learned more about where the proceeds are going.
“The education across campus of what WATTS is and what WATTS does has flourished this week,” Allen said.
Marc Roberson, pastor of Welltown United Methodist Church in Frederick County, slept in a 30-inch-by-42-inch furniture box on Friday. He’d raised enough money to keep himself reasonably comfortable throughout the night, including paying for the use of his cellphone.
“The homeless community is just a group of folks close to my heart and the community,” he said. “A lot of people are unaware how many homeless are in Winchester.”
Roberson said there are approximately 300 people on the area’s streets.
Despite the effort to mimic the sleeping quarters of a homeless person, Roberson said that was near impossible.
“There is so much fun attached to this event, you don’t get the sense of being on the street,” he said. “You don’t get the danger factor.”
SU senior Joshua McCauley slept in a box that had previously carried a recliner.
“When you look at the reason why we’re here, it kind of makes it real,” he said. “Even in Winchester, there are people without a home who need our help.”
— Contact Rebecca Layne at firstname.lastname@example.org
By REBECCA LAYNE The Winchester Star
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF The Winchester Star