A Night in a Box: Eastern's Annual Shack-a-thon

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WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/10/2017) Written by Michael Rouleau

A group of Eastern Connecticut State University students emerged from frost-covered cardboard boxes on Thursday morning, Nov. 9, after spending a freezing night sleeping outside. The temperatures dipped into the 20s for the annual "Shack-a-thon," a fundraising event for the Habitat for Humanity club that aims to raise awareness of substandard housing.

Duct-taped boxes, plastic lining and tarps littered Eastern's main courtyard for the 24-hour event, which challenged club members to weather the elements like homeless people do.

"I was very glad to have layers," said sophomore Bryan Duffy. Besides lacking warm clothing, he added, "A homeless person might not even have access to the supplies we had. Someone could easily die of hypothermia in their sleep."

The students learned some tricks to keeping warm. "You want a small box, rather than a large one," said Duffy, "as your body acts like a furnace and heats up the space." A tarp on the ground and plastic coverings were key for keeping dry, and duct-taped edges helped to seal in the warmth and reinforce the structure.

Another challenge for Shack-a-thon participants was to eat only food that was donated. Luckily the students had the support of members of the Eastern community, who chipped in with snacks and pizza. But they recognized that if not for a few generous souls, their hunger levels would have been drastically different-another insight into the life of being homeless.

Shack-a-thon and the club's other activities lead toward its yearly highlight: a spring break trip to the Carolinas where the students build houses with other Habitat for Humanity chapters. Club members have been honing their skills locally in preparation for the trip. They've been helping to construct a house on Ivan Hill Street in Willimantic throughout the fall semester.

As part of the Habitat for Humanity policy, the to-be homeowner has been building the house alongside the volunteers in what is called "sweat equity." "It's really heartwarming to see him and his kids walk around the rooms that I built," said sophomore Genna Fritsch. "It's amazing to see the kids excitedly say 'this is going to be my room!'"

Habitat for Humanity partners with community members all over the world to help them build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. With volunteer support, Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and for their families.

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Eastern is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,400 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 20 other states and 29 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Eastern has been awarded "Green Campus" status by the Princeton Review seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.