Saturday July 7, 2012

DALTON -- A group of teens will sleep in boxes so that others may not have to.

About 40 teenagers, members of the local youth chapter of the Rotary Club, will camp out in cardboard boxes Friday on the Dalton CRA lawn to raise awareness about homelessness and start a yearlong campaign to support local shelters.

"If we’re planning on running with this for the year, getting 40 kids out to sleep and saying, ‘Imagine doing this every night till you can find a shelter’ -- they’ll have a little bit more of an understanding," said 17-year-old Tim Wagner, the chairman of the event.

To draw in donations of toiletries and gently used clothes and linens, the teens are also hosting a free community concert before the sleepover. The Rolling Stones-inspired "Give ‘Em Shelter" features local music favorites like members of Barefoot Truth and the Sister City Jazz Ambassadors.

Meanwhile, during a recent visit to Barton’s Crossing in Pittsfield, the teens from the Dalton Rotary Interact Club became acquainted with the grim reality of homelessness in the Berkshires. They learned that the 33-bed shelter routinely has to turn people away because of high demand, and that many people fall into homelessness simply because they had a bad break-up and don’t have anywhere else to go.

"It was kind of a shock, because you never expect to see something like that in Berkshire County," said 17-year-old Alex Keator, the club’s president.


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"We’re from Dalton; it’s a very sheltered place."

The sparseness of the accommodations, and the fact that many living at the shelter are wanting of the basic necessities, also touched the young people, many of whom had been completely unaware of the problem at the local level.

"When you go and watch, you notice all the stuff they’re missing -- they need things as simple as pillows and shoes," said Nick Montferret, 17, the club’s vice president.

The unique sleepover is as much about action as it is about empathy. By asking local businesses to sponsor their cardboard boxes, the teens are hoping to bring in about $1,000 for Barton’s Crossing and a family shelter in Pittsfield, Our Friend’s House.

After Friday’s event, the Interact Club plans to paint rooms at Barton’s Crossing, replace or remove carpeting, and locate better furniture, televisions and bookshelves.

"We’d like to make it closer to being a home than the shape it’s in now," Wagner said.

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @mandface

If you go ...

What: "Give ‘Em Shelter," fundraiser concert for Pittsfield homeless shelters, featuring Andy Wrba and Jon Wayonlevich ‘Wayno’ of Barefoot Truth, Andy Kelly and John Haddad of the Sister City Jazz Ambassadors, and several high school bands.

When: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 13

Where: Dalton CRA, 400 Main St., Dalton

Information: Free. Attendees are invited to bring donations of canned goods, toiletries, and gently used clothing, shoes and linens. Donations accepted at the CRA through July 22.