Suitcase in hand, freshman Jared Conrad was ready to move into his box and prepare for the night to come.
The day was plagued with off and on rain — a concern for Conrad and other Tuscola High School students who would later spend the night out in the elements with little more than a cardboard box and a sleeping bag to protect them.
The Waynesville high school’s SWAT, or Students Will Achieve Together, team has held the event, which raises money and awareness for the homeless and poor, for four years.
The team raised about $2,500 this year, said teacher Cindy Shipman, the event’s coordinator. All the proceeds go toward the “Share the Warmth” program, which helps those who cannot afford to pay their electric bill.
“I needed something crazy to do to help people,” Shipman said jokingly.
This year, the boxes were decorated with business names, including Burger King, Wal-mart, the Maggie Valley Club and Waffle House — which were among more than 30 businesses to donate money or food to the event.
The renovated boxes provide shelter for the students as they tell stories, roast marshmallows and, if they are lucky, sleep. While most of the makeshift homes were simple, some students taped two boxes together for a roomier feel; one was complete with a hanging lamp and skylight; and another was painted to look like a castle.
Freshmen Faith Jaynes and Brittney Webb said they were nervous but would have fun no matter what.
“I know how it is to be cold and stuff, but I don’t know how it is to be homeless,” Jaynes said.
The night was part of an area effort to keep the disadvantaged warm and fed during the winter months.
Earlier this month, students and fans donated canned goods in honor of their favorite team at the Pisgah-Tuscola football game. Pisgah collected 2,746 lbs, and Tuscola donated 4,301 lbs.
“It makes you feel better more and more each year,” said junior Jenny West, who has participated for the past three years.
Like many of her fellow students, West said she enjoys helping people. However, teacher Deb Wright thinks the students participate because of something more.
“I think it is the novelty of the thing,” Wright said.
And, although Shipman was concerned the rain might sully their boxes, the sky remained relatively clear and throughout the night temperatures ranged from 52 to 55 degrees — not nearly as cold as a previous year when it snowed.