‘A refrigerator box can be like heaven to the homeless’

Meghan Parmentier

Quinnipiac students discarded their dorm rooms and mattresses on April 7 to spend the night on the campus’s Quadrangle in cardboard boxes.

This was the eighth year that Quinnipiac’s Habitat for Humanity has hosted the Shack-A-Thon, which is also popular on college campuses across the country.

According to Greg Madrid, faculty advisor of Habitat for Humanity for three years, the event was aimed to bring awareness to the Quinnipiac community about homelessness in the United States and how it is so “close to home.”

“There are people living in boxes down in New Haven,” Madrid said. “We hope people will walk by and ask questions so we can give them information.”

This year, 10 teams pre-registered and more were added the day of the event.  Teams typically consisted of six to 10 people.

All of the materials used had been donated.  According to junior Caitlin Guarino, president of the QU chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the collection of cardboard boxes is the lengthiest process of the preparation for this event.  Members of Habitat for Humanity have been preparing all spring semester by getting boxes from the Quinnipiac bookstore, Stop & Shop on Dixwell Avenue, and Bob’s, a clothing store also on Dixwell Avenue.  Some of their most successful finds, however, were results of dumpster diving behind Liquor Land, Bon-Ton and Dollar Tree.

“The bigger, the better,” Madrid said.  “As silly as it sounds, a refrigerator box can be like heaven to the homeless.”

Chartwells, one of the number one supporters of Habitat events, donated the food.  Hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers were provided for the participants.

The $10 pre-registration fee and $15 event-day registration fee goes directly to another Habitat for Humanity branch.  Each year, Quinnipiac’s group donates to another branch in order to spread where their money goes.  Often, this includes branches in Bridgeport, New Haven, and now the Sleeping Giant branch in Hamden.

“Since most of our events are off-campus, this is a really good way to get out in our college community and let them know what we do in Bridgeport and New Haven,” Guarino said.

Construction of the shacks began around 4:45 p.m.

“We try to extend it as long as we can,”  Madrid said.  “Ultimately we’d love to do 24 hours, but we try to get it done between when most classes are done and when we can be cleaned up for the morning classes.”

Prizes were given to the best overall shack, most structurally sound, most creative, and the best organization’s shack.  Awards for the winners included a $50 gift card to Olive Garden, a $25 gift card and various candy and snacks.

With the goal to win ‘most structurally sound,’ freshmen Habitat members Louis Durak and John Hood were building their shack with only closed boxes.

“We figure if we put the boxes how they’re at their most strong, it will be pretty sound,” Durak said.

Across the Quad, junior Colleen Casey and her four team members built their shack with a different theme in mind.

Their plan was to make their shack look like a die to correlate with their theme of “Family Game Night.”

“We’re going to find a marker and make dots,” Casey said, as her teammates put the finishing touches on their square box.

They brought board games Life and Scattergories to play in their finished shack.

“It’s a new experience, a great cause, and I thought it would be fun,” Casey said.

Duct tape and cardboard were the materials Habitat provided.  They did not restrict anyone from bringing anything, even laptops.

“We understand studying still needs to happen,” Madrid said.  “But once the power runs out, it’s not like we’re going to supply them with electrical outlets.”

[CORRECTION: The print edition wrongly identified a 9:30 presentation as one given by students who traveled to Nicaragua with the Albert Schweitzer Institute. It was given by students who traveled to Pittsburgh with Habitat for Humanity.]

The all-night event wrapped up Thursday morning at 6.

“I hope it makes people think of the homeless,” Guarino said.  “Not everyone lives like we do.  Not everyone is as fortunate as we are.”

Photo credit: Joe Pelletier