Lillian Gaither is going to live like she’s homeless on Saturday night.
The 11-year-old will be sleeping inside a cardboard box in a parking lot, hoping it doesn’t rain.
But she won’t be alone.
The youth group at McMurry United Methodist Church in Claycomo is hosting a camp out that night to benefit the homeless of Kansas City. Dozens of sixth- to 12-graders plan to leave their cell phones at home and sleep in boxes in the church parking lot. Barrels will be placed out front for people to stop by and donate non-perishable food, hygiene products, bottled water or gently used Bibles. There will also be a bucket for monetary donations to the City Union Mission and The Lazarus Ministries at Grand Avenue Temple Methodist Church in Kansas City.
“I’ve been camping a lot, but this will be the first time I’ve slept in a box,” said Lillian, who will be a sixth grader at Discovery Middle School. “It makes me really sad to think about the homeless because not only do most of them not have food or shelter, but a lot of them are split up from their family. I really hope people come down and give donations.”
The event, which starts at 6 p.m., is open to all the Northland Methodist youth groups and any families that want to participate.
It was organized to help widen the kids’ perspectives.
“The youth of the world need to be humbled because most kids don’t realize how difficult it is for others out there,” said Steve Gaither, the church’s youth director. “This camp offers them a taste of what it’s like to have absolutely nothing.”
A light dinner will be served and there will be a campfire for people to keep warm.
Homeless members of the Grand Avenue Temple will also come out to share their stories with the campers.
“We can watch movies or read magazines, but to hear it out of their mouths means much more,” said Jennifer Taylor, organizer of the church’s vacation Bible school. “The reality is this can happen to anybody. You can lose your job and end up on the street.”
Gaither hopes the experience helps the participants understand that homeless people aren’t just living under bridges downtown.
“Most kids in the suburbs don’t realize there are homeless people living right in their backyard — it’s not just in the inner city,” he said. “The amount of people who live below the poverty level or beyond right now in Liberty is amazing.”
The camp fits right in with the church’s goal to encourage its youth to be compassionate and help the community, he added.
Most of the kids are already starting to get the message, especially after a recent mission trip to Oklahoma and a tour of Kansas City homeless shelters.
Although Jade Wiley, 13, admitted she was a little freaked out to sleep in a parking lot at first, she said the more she thought about it, the more it made sense.
“Homeless people have lost so much and they’re just trying to get back on their feet,” said Jade, who will be an eighth grader at Smithville Middle School. “To see the world through their eyes, even if just for one night, can really help us understand their lives a little better.”
On Sunday morning, Jade, Lillian, and the rest of the kids plan to present their experience to the congregation at church service.
And when the items are donated and the boxes are packed away, the kids will be left with an important life lesson.
“Homeless people are just like us — they just need help,” Jade said. “I’m already learning that as one person, I can make a big difference.”