Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Church youth learn about homelessness

TANEYTOWN - Inside a heated room of Grace United Church of Christ, 9-year-old Addie Ostendorf-Snell took a break from climbing in and out of cardboard boxes to sit in front of her own and contemplate.

Brush in hand, she started painting: "Help the H," she wrote and then paused.

"Do you need help?" her dad Steve Ostendorf-Snell asked.

She nodded. He spelled, and she painted, together creating a message emblazoned on the cardboard box's exterior: "Help the Homeless."

Today is the last day of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, but the Rev. Steve Ostendorf-Snell has worked to ensure the issue is one that the Taneytown church's youth remember for much longer. Eight kids and several parents taped together and painted cardboard boxes Saturday afternoon and carried them into the church's front yard, where the group slept for the night.

"I think it's important for children to do it so they have a heart of compassion for the homeless," Ostendorf-Snell said. "People want to kind of just ignore the homeless people, but once you go through an experience like this, it's hard to do that."

It's about the sixth year Grace United Church of Christ has held the program, and this year its sister congregation, St. Paul's United Church of Christ, did the same last weekend.

The first order of business was a lesson on homelessness, then crafting their shelters for the night, then dinner, then watching "James and the Giant Peach" as a lesson on living in a harsh home environment, then a candlelight vigil for Hurricane Sandy victims and then sleep. They spent the night outside in 30 degree weather, but first, they needed to make their boxes.

And there's a methodology to that: Overlap two cardboard boxes two inches and tape them together, Ostendorf-Snell said.

Kayla Hornby and Paige Belt, both 10, meticulously taped theirs together. Then, it was time to decorate.

The two sat together painting a side of the box hot pink with purple dividing lines to create the illusion of bricks.

But through the program, they've learned that a house made of sturdy bricks is a luxury some can't afford for a plethora of reasons.

"People that are homeless have been through a lot of hard things," Paige said.

"Like divorces," Kayla chimed in.

"Like crimes," Paige replied.

In the kitchen, Ostendorf-Snell stirred the green beans and checked on the ham. The church sent those dishes along with cake, rolls and mashed potatoes to the Safe Haven Shelter in Westminster. And the crew ate the same for dinner as well.

Ostendorf-Snell poked his head out of the kitchen to check up on the box-makers.

"You're never going to get that thing through there," he said with a laugh.

Gunnar Golliday and Justin Crouse, both 14, had constructed a monstrosity of a shelter. Four boxes taped together. And it had to be slid through one set of double doors and then angled just right so it would go through another.

The endeavor resulted in using a knife to cut the construction in half and tape it back up outside, while parents and children moved their freshly painted and taped cardboard boxes into the church's front lawn.

The shelters formed a circle with the entrances facing one another. Passersby could see the boxes and read the messages, like Addie's, of helping the homeless.

And one held a friendly reminder: "People are sleeping. Shhhh," it read in green, pink and purple letters.