Fun with cardboard boxes

Hasmik Djoulakian

(April 2, 2013) — The food trucks were lined up, the cardboard was stacked, the Christmas lights were strung and people were parking their cars and making their way up to the parking lot of La Salle High School in Pasadena on the night of March 16. The third annual Habitat for Humanity “Shantytown” fundraiser was off to a good start with much warmer weather than in the years before. Students from nine neighboring high schools, several of whom were from Clark, immediately shed their blankets, pillows and sleeping bags and headed over to the food trucks before the lines became too long. There were two main incentives for students to brave the late-winter chill and sleep out in the open in self-built cardboard shanties. The first was that they would get to do it with all their friends. “Getting to sleep in a box with friends sounded like a lot of fun to me,” said senior Lilia Iskandaryan. “I’d never heard of anything like that before this.” The second, and the much more important one, is that the event aimed to raise $10,000 to help fund the Desiderio Homes campaign. The campaign has already launched and, with the help of hundreds of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, will see a dozen homes built for army veterans who are currently homeless or facing substandard housing conditions. To set the mood for the night, Shantytown director Steve Solis played a short film which helped students understand Habitat for Humanity’s motto: “a hand up, not a hand out.” Shortly after the film was over, a family that had helped build their own Habitat for Humanity house spoke about their experience with the organization. Junior Hunter Sandmeyer found it inspiring that receiving the home changed all four family members’ lives. “It opened my eyes to the plights of other people and made me want to make a difference,” Sandmeyer said. So that the mood would not become too somber, the next activity on the agenda was the most highly anticipated: the shanty building. For the next hour, everyone in attendance became an architect. Girls from Mayfield High School built major landmarks around the globe out of cardboard boxes and garbage bags and demonstrated their view on “poverty around the globe.” Others became artists and interior decorators and turned their shanties into showpieces, complete with flowers, lights and drawings. Clark’s shanty resembled a clubhouse with a “cannon” near the front. “We were running around everywhere for the whole hour,” said senior Ania Nazarian. “The shanty walls were uneven and we had to tear it down and start over at one point, but it ended up looking amazing.” Although the movie that was supposed to play at 11 p.m. could not show because the projector was no longer working, most did not mind. Some students had settled inside their shanties with their friends while others walked around, ate and spoke with others. The night was dying down and the chaperones soon ordered everyone inside their shanties, but neither Nazarian nor most others were ready to sleep. “We were too excited so we ended up talking really late into the night. In the morning, though, we were cold and sore,” she said. “The message had gotten through.”