U.Va. Students Sleep Outside in the Cold to Raise Money for Homeless

Oct. 12, 2006 -- Dozens of U.Va. students have been braving the autumn weather this week to sleep outside and raise money for the homeless.

The Sukkot Survivor Sleepout, sponsored by the U.Va. chapter of Hillel, a national Jewish student organization, has attracted students of different faiths to raise money for PACEM, a local interfaith initiative that provides shelter for Charlottesville’s homeless in the wintertime.

“It was important to a lot of people that this be an interfaith effort just as PACEM is an interfaith effort,” said Victoria Young, a U.Va. student, Hillel member and one of the project organizers. Participants include Catholic and Protestant students as well as Jewish students, she said.

About 60 students have signed up to participate in the weeklong fundraiser with 12 to 15 sleeping outside in tents and sleeping bags on any one night. The sleepout is taking place on Central Grounds between Brown College and Monroe Hill House.

For the past few years, 36 local religious organizations in Charlottesville — Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Jewish and Muslim — have gathered together as PACEM, People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, to help more than 40 local men find shelter during the cold winter months. This year, PACEM is launching a shelter for women as well.

"They’re doubling their budget to help the women, so our fundraiser should help cover their new costs,” Young said.

The site of the sleepout features a sukkah, a temporary, open-air shelter built, according to Jewish tradition, to commemorate the 40 years that Biblical Jews wandered homeless through the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which lasts for a week in the early fall, observant Jews sleep and eat their meals in the sukkah.

Programming, offered every night to engage the participating students, has ranged from a cappella singing groups to talks by religious studies graduate students about the role of social justice in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions. A dance with music supplied by a DJ was planned for Thursday night and dessert and singing were planned for Friday night, beginning at 9. The sleepout ends on Friday night.

Since Monday, participating students have raised $4,700 toward their goal of $5,000, Young said. “Our success so far is pretty awesome as we thought that $5,000 was pretty ambitious to begin with,” she said.

For more information, call Victoria Young at (540) 220-6765, or contact her by email at vy3p@virginia.edu.