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Ryan Johnson, Published October 13 2012

Giving up food, shelter for taste of being homeless

FARGO – Sindy Keller said it’s easy to “take so much for granted,” but an annual event that started Saturday afternoon gave the president of the YWCA’s board of directors a chance to once again “walk the walk” and get a glimpse of what her clients go through on a regular basis.

Keller was taking part for a fourth time in the annual Homeless and Hungry program, a 30-hour event now in its seventh year that aims to give participants a firsthand experience of what it’s like to lack food, housing and basic necessities.

“We get a very, very small picture of what these people are going through and living with on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It’s pretty simple; there’s nothing elaborate about it. But we really stay focused on what’s happening in Fargo-Moorhead.”

This year’s Homeless and Hungry was expected to draw about 600 participants who aimed to raise about $100,000 and bring in 30,000 pounds of food, clothing and toiletries to help the community’s less fortunate residents.

Brittany Himmerich spent her Saturday afternoon taping together large cardboard sheets that would serve as her shelter on the front lawn of downtown Fargo’s First Lutheran Church.

It’s the second year she’s participated, and she said the rules were simple: the only things she was allowed to bring were the clothes she was wearing, a sleeping bag, a water bottle, a notebook, a Bible and a pen.

Throughout the 30-hour event, participants forgo food, electronics and the comforts of home to get a sense of the reality of the 1,000 or so people who are homeless in the community on any given day.

Himmerich said her first experience with Homeless and Hungry had already changed how she looks at the issue and she now tries to donate food and clothing whenever she has a chance to those who need help.

“It makes me aware of other people and how much I should appreciate what I have in life,” she said.

Himmerich convinced her friend Jewl Hogenson, another attendee at First Lutheran, to participate with her this year. Hogenson said she expected the hardest part would be not eating for 30 hours.

But she said the experience would stick with her long after the hunger was gone and she could eat again.

“I wanted to let people know that there are people like that in Fargo that are homeless and hungry,” she said. “It doesn’t just happen elsewhere, and you don’t really know it’s even going on in your own town unless you do stuff like this.”

The event wraps up today, with participants serving as hosts at Fargo North High School while the donated food, clothing and household goods are offered for free to low-income and homeless residents from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

Raleigh, N.C., resident Carole Inman said she flew to Fargo to participate in Homeless and Hungry for a second year, something she promised she would do after spending a night in a cardboard box with her nieces last year.

She said the event gave her and the kids a chance to hear personal stories from homeless residents and said it was an experience that should happen in every city around the country because of its lasting impact.

“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s very profound,” she said. “All over the city, everyone has heightened their awareness.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587