During a time when many Americans celebrate their abundance, some citizens remember those without by holding Cardboard City the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.
Locally, this yearly event takes place at Elkin Municipal Park benefiting The ARK shelter for homeless women and families.
“Thanksgiving is such a special time of year,” said Cynthia Cothren, director of The ARK. “We have so much to be thankful for throughout the whole year, but especially now.”
Cothren was exceptionally grateful as she learned the estimated total earned during Cardboard City was an unexpected $27,981.
“We raised $12,000 when we had the first Cardboard City,” said Cothren. “Jeff Eidson raised over half of what we raised the first year.”
Eidson raised the most money with $8,200 by inviting employees to make contributions to keep him homeless a little longer.
“We were grateful for that,” said Cothren. “This is our major fundraiser so it’s make or break for us, but it’s fun to see all the people here who support us all year long.”
Part of the reason it was more like a block party than a homeless hangout was the weather.
“The weather was especially enjoyable this year compared to recent years,” said Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital CEO Paul Hammes. “It’s a little warmer and a little dryer so we’re thankful for that as well.”
“Last year was gale for winds so the weather was just perfect,” said Cothren.
The pleasant weather may have contributed to the good turn out, but the trend was already in place in spite of other more wintry years.
“It gets bigger and better every year,” said Hammes, whose wife Dana also enjoyed the evening.
“I think it’s fantastic. Everyone’s creative,” said Dana. “They raised a lot of money and did a good job.”
Carol McDowell was one of those who helped raised a lot of money.
“Carol quilts for us every year and it’s awesome,” said founding member of the board for The ARK and organizer of Cardboard City, Jane Motsinger.
This year McDowell created a quilt from scraps left over from what is known as a Methodist Man quilt.
McDowell gathered ties from the men of the Elkin First Methodist Church, often requesting them while they were being used. These ties were then made into a going away present for Pastor Mark Barden with the leftover pieces going into a quilt that earned $2,864.
Hal Stewart, a member of the church, was drawn as the winner of the queen-sized quilt that already has gathered generations of stories to it.
“I’m just pleased as punch,” said McDowell, who has created two quilts for Stewart previously, including one from his own neckties.
“People have been so generous, but a Methodist Man ending up with it when it’s the ties of the Methodist Men, it’s just kind of poetic,” said McDowell. “I’m so tickled.”
The quilt was not the only piece that drew memories Saturday.
“First Baptist Church did a box in tribute to Bob Norton. It was a very special box,” said Cothren.
“He was instrumental in getting the [ARK] board to rent a house until we built the [current] house. So he move that forward,” said Cothren.
“I still think that we didn’t ever really know the impact that our dad had on this community,” said Norton’s daughter, Caroline.
“We hear stories and we saw him so actively involved, but it’s different when we have someone come up to us and tell us something that he did for them specifically.”
“It wasn’t just the name, it was things that he meant to them. I thought that was the best part,” said Tim Norton, Bob’s son. “It was obviously very touching and it was from our church which made it even more special to us.”
“It’s just been a very emotional evening,” said Ferrell, who had a good relationship with her husband although they were separated. “He was just a wonderful father to the children.”
He was also a wonderful community figure, according to the memories he left behind.
“He loved Elkin,” said Tim to the emphatic agreement of his mother and sister.
“He was always civic minded,” said Ferrell, “always wanted to do something for the town.”
“He loved singing in the church choir and being part of the Community Chorus,” said Caroline. “That was something that we would come down every year and come and support the community in that way.”
Caroline’s favorite memory was an entertaining anecdote her brother had not known about.
“One time I was in high school and mom was having him put the icicle lights on the house,” said Caroline, “and he climbed up the ladder and the ladder fell.
“He was on the roof yelling ‘Ferrell! Ferrell! I can’t get off the roof,’” said Caroline to a chorus of laughter. “He loved Christmas.”
He also loved his church, serving as a member of the deacon board, Sunday school teacher and various committees as well as the choir and his civic service on the city council and planning board.
“My husband always says you don’t know how much your father impacted his community and the people that met him and it’s true,” said Caroline, “and I just miss him so much. He would be happy that we were here.”
As a hero among his peers, Bob Norton exemplified the message presented by the the box decorated by the Abstract Church.
“[Pastor] Alan [Parsons] always has a theme that you don’t have to be Superman to come and support folks,” said Cothren. “I think that’s great.”
Although Parsons had a great message, it was the box presented by Carolina Farm Credit from Pilot Mountain that received top honors for creativity.
“We work with Steve Motsinger, and his wife Jane let us know about [Cardboard City] and we all just thought it would be a great cause,” said Jocelyn Roten, who estimated their earnings for The ARK to be around $1,700.
Five-year-old Lena Price had a different opinion than the judges did. “[I liked] the one that sparkles and my nana’s was the best because it was mine,” said Lena. “My nana made it for me.”
According to Cothren, first-time participants Price’s Equipment intends to return next year even though the weather may help young Lena better understand that being outdoors isn’t always so much fun.
“When people don’t have enough money to have a house, sometimes they have to live in cardboard until they raise up enough money to get them a house,” explained Lena’s mother April Price.
“No TV, no games, no bathroom,” said father Justin Price, however Lena was most impressed that living in a cardboard box meant having no bedroom. “You’d get awful cold because you won’t have no heat.”
Lena decided she was grateful to have a mom and dad who could take care of those kinds of worries and that, “God loves me.”
April, who was also grateful for those things, was appreciative for The ARK as well.
“I’m glad that somebody actually took the time and pulled the [resources] together to create a place for battered women, for homeless women and children,” said April.
“We’ve had friends that have done work and helped out [at The ARK] and we’ve had people who come to our church that at one time they come from The ARK and it’s just a sad situation. It really is.”
This is a part of the reason Cardboard City takes place in November across the nation leading to a better understanding of what it actually feels like to be homeless.
Even on a warm fall evening in a friendly North Carolina town, two hours outside after dark in November can be uncomfortable.
“Right now I’m really hungry so it’d be really hard to have to do this every night,” said freshman Emma Henshaw of the First Baptist Church Jonesville. “I think it’s a really cool way to, I guess, let people see what it’d be like.”
When the weather is nice, it is also a good time to get the community together as well as raise funds and awareness.
“Everybody enjoys coming out and seeing each other and taking in the experience,” said Cothren.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.