By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Life has returned to normal for St. John’s Lutheran Church Pastor Mark Loder and several members of St. John’s youth group after spending four days and three nights outside in the cold.
The group planned the winter sleep out behind St. John’s Church in Winsted from Dec. 26 to Dec. 29, to draw attention to the plight of the homeless with the hope of inspiring others to help the homeless through donations.
Loder said he was impressed with the great support the youth received from the community, and “seeing the community come forward to blow our expectations away.”
The youth group received $3,850, almost double its $2,000 goal, and 869 pounds of food, which also exceeded the 500-pound goal set by the group.
The students remained upbeat during the entire campout, even after spending some uncomfortable nights in a makeshift shelter.
“This was not easy by any means,” Loder said on the afternoon of the third day. “It was pretty cold at night.”
“I am sure some of them, deep down inside, wished they could be home, but there hasn’t been any complaints,” Loder said. “They are a good group of kids.”
That afternoon, everyone was hanging out by two large burning barrels that were providing very little heat. Everyone was close by except Zach Pierson, who was out tossing a football with Loder’s son, Micah.
The group was quiet until they were asked what their plans were for the next morning when they were able to return home.
Morgan Pierson said, “I am going to go home and shower. Then hug my parents because they show me how easy I have it.”
For Morgan, the worst part of the winter sleep out “is when you get cold at night;” the best part, “was spending time with everyone. I missed my phone the most, but it was a great experience,” Morgan said.
For the others, when they headed home Thursday, they all said a shower was at the top of their list.
For Zach Menden, the worst part of the campout, “was not having my own space to sleep at night,” Menden said. The best part was, “helping to unpack boxes of clothes for the homeless” at a homeless shelter in south Minneapolis, where the group worked Tuesday afternoon for three hours.
Zach Pierson said, “The best part was helping at the homeless mission. I felt like I was helping to make a difference.” What he missed the most, “Nothing.”
When asked about what they had been eating, Sam Gatz said they had potatoes in a can.
“They are actually pretty good,” Gatz said.
“It depends on who you talk to,” Loder said, as Mackenzie shook her head “no.”
Ice fishing allowed Gatz, who was the youngest in the group, to use his Scout survival training to try to catch some fish for one of their meals, after they managed to get a hole open in the ice.
“We didn’t catch anything,” Gatz said. “We made hooks out of pop can tops we twisted.”
Gatz, along with several others, also had hopes to catch a squirrel to eat.
Gatz explained how they had put a stick in the ground with a fishing line that had a hook on the end of it. The bait was a peanut they covered with peanut butter.
“We had three traps, but the squirrel cleaned bait off of two,” Zach Pierson said. “I just really don’t like that squirrel.”
The youth group and Loder began their days around 7 a.m., and bedtime was 9:30 to 10 p.m.
With little light, the evenings were spent in conversation.
“We were talking about exorcism, ghosts, and pastor being a cop,” Gatz said.
Devin Pierson said he would be willing to do another winter campout. The rest of the youth also agreed, they would be willing to try it again.
“Some of the parents of the younger kids are hoping that we do this again so they get the experience,” Loder said.
Mother Nature cooperated with the group, giving them temperatures between 20 degrees in the evening and one day as high as 50 degrees during the day, very unusual for a Minnesota winter, and Loder admits they were lucky.
Loder said someone asked him if he had some pull with someone up above.