Cardboard CityOver 300 Unitarian Universalists from more than a dozen UU congregations in the Central Midwest District slept outside in cardboard boxes on the night of March 21 raising awareness of the problem of homelessness and raising more than $9,000 which will be donated to homeless shelters and food pantries in their local communities

"We were looking for a social action project that congregations could participate in together," said Steve Cooper, director of religious education at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, IL. Cooper collected resources on homelessness for more than a year and posted relevant materials on a website created for the initiative: The resources on homelessness involved lesson plans, social action ideas as well as intergenerational stories and movie suggestions compiled by Cooper.

All of these efforts led up to Cardboard City on March 21st, which allowed congregants a chance to experience some of what it means to be homeless. "It’s one thing to sit in a room and learn about it," said Cooper. "It’s something else to experience it, even though it’s only for a night, and knowing you’ve got a home to go back to in the morning."

Since so many of the congregations involved were in the Chicago area or Wisconsin, the participants recognized the unpredictability of the weather in March and had safety contingencies in the event of serious weather.  Participants stayed in their makeshift cardboard homes all night -- even in those areas where it rained, however, the understanding was that in the event of thunderstorms with lightning, the participants would have to move into the church.

This social justice initiative was conceived by a group of Illinois Unitarian Universalist religious education directors and organized by Cooper. The concept was to join together to fight the cause of homelessness in order to make a greater impact, yet having each congregation engage in their own Cardboard City in their local community allowed them to raise money that could make a difference right at home.

Among the congregations in our district who participated in the Cardboard City initiative were: First Unitarian Society of Chicago; Third Unitarian Church of Chicago; Beverly Unitarian Church in Chicago; Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship in Carbondale, IL; Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist in Palatine, IL; DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, IL; Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin in Elgin, IL; Unitarian Church of Hinsdale in Hinsdale, IL; North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, IL; Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford, IL; Unitarian Universalist Church in Peoria, IL: Eliot Unitarian Chapel in St. Louis, Mo.; Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, Wisc.; and Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield.