Cold, perhaps wet and struggling to keep the rain from collecting on the tarps and dripping through holes Friday afternoon, Rick Brasfield and some fellow members of First Christian Church of Blue Springs still consider themselves fortunate.
Several church members will spend this weekend camping outside on church grounds on 15th Street in makeshift shelters to raise awareness about homelessness and collect donated blankets and other supplies. It's the 14th year for “Freezin For a Reason,” part of the church's ongoing Operation Chillout, in which they accept donations of blankets, coats, hats and gloves year-round. In the summer, they'll do a weekend of “Same Reason, Another Season.”
“We feel like we need to be out here to raise that awareness, to live in those shoes,” Brasfield said of the annual January camping, acknowledging this to be one of the harshest weekends they've camped. “It brings it more to light.
“We're blessed we can get under something. We can store it and put it away; they have to carry it away” when they move.
The campers use pallets, plywood, cardboard and large plastic canvas tarps to make their enclosed shelters and a lean-to. They prop up the beds a little so they're not sleeping in the mud, but there's no electricity – only firewood pits and stoves.
Brasfield said they anticipated nine campers for Friday night, and a couple of them sat under another makeshift shelter on the rounded drive to accept donations. By mid-afternoon they had already collected hundreds of articles.
Freezin For a Reason started as a challenge from the pastor to collect 1,000 blankets for Micah Ministries. Over the years, the church has collected more than a quarter million blankets for various charities.
“In that time, what we've seen happen, is every linen closet in Blue Springs gets cleaned out,” Brasfield said jokingly. Now, they're seeing more cash and new item donations, he said, and one woman even ordered from Amazon to be shipped to the church. A former church member who’s now a pastor in Clinton started a similar event this year, Brasfield said.
“We stopped counting a long time ago; it doesn't matter (how many blankets) anymore,” he said. “Success can be if we get 10 blankets, because that helps.”
And a blanket used by a homeless person on the street might only last a week from getting wet or frozen, he said.
Simple facts like that, Brasfield said, make one realize that even if the weekend campout is difficult, it's difficult to truly appreciate how the homeless live. It's a community that “hides in plain sight,” as people know they exist and pass by them most days, even if they sometimes can't pinpoint exactly where they might be.
“We have the luxury of going home on Sunday, taking a shower and getting out of the cold; these people that live on the streets don't,” Brasfield said. “It's hard to put into words what this homeless population really goes through.”
Besides Micah Ministries, charities that will receive donations from “Freezin” include: Salvation Army, Foster Adopt Connect, Lazarus Ministries, Phoenix Family, Free Hot Soup KC, Cherith Brook and the Community Services League.