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Church youth group raises awareness about homelessness in Pa.

Students camp outside in makeshift, cardboard shelters and can for money alongside the street

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — Dozens of students from church youth groups in Mechanicsburg took part in the 30th Annual Youth Sleepout at First United Methodist Church on West Simpson Street. 

The event raises money and awareness for people struggling with homelessness in the Commonwealth.

“Students walk away realizing a bed is something they should be thankful for that not everyone has," said Lisa Aronson, Youth Pastor for First United Methodist Church.

The students set up makeshift, cardboard shelters and camped out in the church's parking lot to sleep in overnight. With temperatures dipping into the 20s Friday night, students experienced the struggles that people without stable housing face day and night.

“People have said, ‘why don’t you move it to a nicer time of the year,” but part of it is experiencing what true challenge can feel like," said Aronson.

“Homeless people are really less fortunate than us because they don’t really have a cardboard box they can snuggle down in or coats and mittens," said Daniel Wenger, one of the students who participated in the sleepout. "They may be out on a bench with a blanket.”

Students and parents stood along West Simpson Street while holding signs and taking donations from passersby. The money helps charities give critical assistance to the homeless.

“You’re completely at the mercy of the donors, but every year it seems like we’re able to raise a greater amount than the last," said Emily Hammaker, who participated in her 5th sleepout event on Friday. "And it’s really awesome knowing that the proceeds are going to help people.”

Church organizers hope the event inspires students to find more ways to help the less fortunate.

“Its purpose has always been along Thanksgiving to help students recognize what they can be thankful for, but in turn how they can also help others," said Aronson.

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