On Nov. 16, West Chester University hosted the second annual Sleep Out to End Hunger and Homelessness on the residential quad. The event lasted from 6 p.m. on Friday night until 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. The Sleep Out was a part of Resolve to Fight Poverty and National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which lasted from Nov. 12-20.
“The Sleep Out was definitely a success,” said Dawna Jones, the Resident Director of Wayne Hall and part of the Sleep Out Planning Committee. “We had over 300 participants. Our goal was to have at least 50 more participants than last year [when we had 250], and we exceeded that goal.”
The mission of the Sleep Out was to raise awareness as well as donations for the homeless shelters and food cupboards of Chester County. Participants, who registered in teams, were asked to donate items or find sponsors for their teams to donate one item per hour spent outside. For example, three hours on the quad in the cold translated to three canned goods, $3, or three scarves. Among the list of suggested donations were scarves, hats/gloves, grocery gift cards, canned vegetables and healthy nonperishable foods. According to Dawna Jones, the Chester County shelters and food cupboards were thrilled about the incoming donations.
“The representative from the food cupboard, after hearing how many donations we were expecting to bring, was so surprised by the quantity that she told us that we would need to make an appointment to drop off the donations so that they would be prepared,” Jones explained.
The Sleep Out Planning Committee began preparations for the Sleep Out very early. “The planning committee met most Sundays in October and November to plan for the Sleep Out. Subcommittees would meet outside of the meeting time to prepare as well,” said Leah Coan, another member of the committee. “It required a lot of organization and making sure everyone was on the same page. Since this was the second Sleep Out at West Chester, we were able to learn from last year and make the necessary improvements.”
When the time came for the actual event, setup began for the Planning Committee at 4:30 p.m. Following that, team leaders were encouraged to come out and stake out their spaces either with cardboard boxes, cots, or tents at 5:30 p.m. By 6:00 p.m., the Sleep Out was in full swing. There were speakers from both Safe Harbor, a Chester County homeless shelter, as well as from the West Chester Food Cupboard. After listening to the speakers, participants were encouraged to eat soup or drink hot chocolate while near the archway of University Hall, a laptop played music for participants to dance to. Throughout the course of the night, the committee also played two movies with a theme of homelessness: Pay it Forward and August Rush. However, after the movies were over, it was time for participants to settle down and try to keep warm as the temperature continued to drop as dawn approached.
Sleep Out participant Katie Lyons said, “It was really cold outside and it was so heartbreaking to know that homeless people have to deal with that every day, and some of them don’t even get tents to sleep in. They just have to sleep out there in the cold. And we took advantage of the fact that we could come back into Wayne when it was over to get warm.”
The donations from the Sleep Out continue to keep coming in. For students who are interested in making a difference, the Committee is still collecting donations at the Wayne Hall front desk up until the university closes for winter break, but the donations have already reached almost 300 food items, 65 clothing items, and $300 in monetary donations, much to the delight of the Sleep Out Planning Committee.
“What’s most important is that people remember the plight of the homeless in Chester County,” explained Jones. “It may have seemed like a fun dance party from the outside, but in truth, through our donations as well as the overwhelming participation in the Sleep Out, we succeeded in our mission: to raise awareness and to make a difference for the less fortunate in Chester County.”
Clare Haggerty is a second-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at CH757342@wcupa.edu.