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How does poverty feel? Church youth group finds out

Echo Press photo by Jo Colvin Caitlyn Wagner (left), 11, and Lynnsey Fieldhammer, 12, were among the campers who braved the cold temperatures.1 / 2
Echo Press photo by Jo Colvin A group of students and adult volunteers tried to get warm around a fire at the Bethesda Lutheran Church during Operation Cardboard Box Saturday night.2 / 2

How does it feel to be homeless?

Cold. Very cold.

At least that's one part of poverty that junior and senior high youth from Bethesda Lutheran Church experienced first-hand Saturday night.

The students slept in cardboard boxes in the church parking lot with only a campfire and sleeping bags to chase away the chill.

With temperatures dipping down to the single digits and snowflakes swirling about, they needed all the warmth they could get.

The goal of Operation Cardboard Box, which took place from 7 p.m. on Saturday until noon on Sunday, was to raise awareness of homelessness and poverty in Minnesota.

The group also collected money for the Douglas County Food Shelf and toys to donate to Jingle Bells.

The event was a success, according to organizer Karen Fieldhammer.

"It was cold!" she said in a posting to an Echo Press' online story about the event. "But the kids were great! We had 26 of our youth show up and spend the night battling the cold and eventual snow."

A number of adult volunteers spent the night as well.

In all, the students purchased 29 bags, $370 worth, of groceries from Elden's Food Fair, which will be donated to the food shelf.

The group also received more than $200 in cash donations, along with some toy items that will be donated to Jingle Bells.

"I'd like to thank the community members that came out to ask questions and encourage the kids during Operation Cardboard Box," Fieldhammer said. "This was a fantastic opportunity for the youth and adults of Bethesda Lutheran Church as well as the community at large."

For the students who participated, the night was a memorable challenge.

When asked at about 8:30 that night if she thought she could make it outside the whole time without going inside, 12-year-old Lynnsey Fieldhammer said, "I am positive I can do this, even though my fingers are frozen."

The students' brush with poverty isn't over yet.

They also plan to live in the shoes of a family of four on a limited income and go on a "grocery store scavenger hunt," in which they will have a set amount of money to purchase a week's worth of groceries.