St. John’s youth prepare for second winter sleep out in Winsted
By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Sleeping outside in cardboard boxes and eating meals from a can might not sound like an ideal way to spend Christmas break, but teens from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Winsted are ready to brave the cold for a cause.
They’ll meet outside the church Wednesday, Dec. 26, and spend the following three days raising awareness for homelessness.
Sam Gatz, Zach Menden, Debin Pierson, Zach Pierson, Morgan Pierson, Dillon Quast, and MacKenzie Quast were part of St. John’s first sleep out last winter, and this year, they’ll be joined by a few new recruits.
Led by Pastor Mark Loder, the group plans to do daily community service projects, such as shoveling snow and assisting local businesses. Friday, Dec. 28, they’ll travel to the Marie Sandvik Center (a Christian shelter in Minneapolis) to help serve the evening meal.
“The challenge this year is to collect 600 pounds of food for the McLeod County Food Shelf and raise $2,000 50 percent of which will go to the Marie Sandvik Center,” Loder noted, adding that the other 50 percent will help students attend the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod youth gathering this summer.
Community members are encouraged to stop by St. John’s Lutheran Church Dec. 26-29 to drop off gifts.
In addition to items for the food shelf, donations of canned and boxed food are also appreciated for the students participating in the homeless mission experience.
“We completely rely on donations,” Loder said, explaining that the intent is to create a realistic picture of homelessness.
If anyone is interested in donating a meal, they are encouraged to contact youth group member Erica Wessling and her mother, Lisa, who will be secretly coordinating when the group gets meals, if any.
“One meal a day is not going to be provided, and we won’t know when that is,” Loder said.
Throughout the experience, students will be without electronics, showers, and a heated home. Although they will be dressed for cold weather, they are only allowed to bring three “basic needs” items along, such as deodorant, a utility knife, a toothbrush, or other similar belongings. Each student also brings their own Bible, which is used for a daily devotion and Bible study.
“At this time, we are seeking donations of blankets, tarps, extra-large boxes, socks, gloves, etc. These items will be used for shelter and living during the experience,” Loder noted.
The idea for the winter homeless campout came from Mackenzie Quast, a 2012 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School graduate who had heard of another youth group doing the same thing, but they had slept indoors.
Last year, the local youth group’s goal for the campout was to raise $2,000 and give 500 pounds of food to the food shelf. The community’s giving far outweighed their expectations, with $3,850 in donations and 869 pounds of food.
“We got a really good response,” Loder said. “I’m really hoping and praying the community gets behind it again.”
To learn more, contact St. John’s Lutheran Church (401 1st St. N) at (320) 485-2522.