As Hurricane Sandy headed toward the East Coast on Saturday night, 120 high school students prepared to spend the night in makeshift shelters in cardboard boxes in the back parking lot of Our Daily Bread Employment Center in downtown Baltimore.
"We've got a baby crib kind of plan," said Victoria Lizardo, of Rosedale, a student at Chesapeake High School, as she collaborated with several other teens on the construction of he cardboard boxes into crib-like shelters. Lizardo's looked as sturdy and spacious as a cardboard abode could look.
"Somebody's going to live in it," said Alex Kuethe, of Glen Burnie, a senior at Mount St. Joseph High.
But there was one flaw.
"It needs a door," said Eric Simpson, project manager for the construction company Whiting Turner, one of several consultants to 120 area juniors and seniors, all building similar shelters.
The occasion was the second annual Baltimore Sleepout for the Homeless, sponsored by Catholic Charities' Our Daily Bread and Arbutus-based Jobs, Housing & Recovery Inc.
The event was limited to upper-school students, who volunteered for a chance to experience homelessness and gain service hours they need to graduate.
Wearing backpacks and carrying sleeping bags, the teens spent the night as if they were homeless, from 6:30 p.m. Saturday to 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
The event had a festive air, as a deejay spun popular songs and sleepout sponsors handed out gift cards for those who had the most structurally sound, spacious and waterproof boxes.
But the serious nature of the sleepout wasn't lost on students such as Caroline Williams, of Catonsville, a senior at Mount de Sales Academy.
Williams said she came "to understand what (the homeless) go through every day."
And it drove home to Williams how far removed she is from homelessness.
"We should be thankful for the school we go to," she said.
The impending storm, Hurricane Sandy, due to hit the area early in the week, added a sense of urgency and pathos for students like Cece Volker, of Towson, a senior at Maryvale Preparatory School.
"It's really sad to think about," Volker said as she helped Lizardo and several other students build their shelters. "Before this, I didn't think about all the hardships people go through. This is real."
"It's a reality check," said Shannon Collyer, campus minister at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville.
"I think it will be a nice teaching moment," said Bob Keenan, a spokesman for Catholic Charities.
"It's scary," said Maryvale Preparatory School senior Caroline Frederico, of Towson. "You (wouldn't) know where you're going to go" in a storm.
The storm 'makes it that much more sad'
An estimated 4,000 homeless people are living on the streets of Baltimore at any one time, event organizers said.