Cardboard city

If I asked your students if they would willingly sleep in a cardboard box in October in Ohio without electronics, food or other luxuries, would they?

I would have guessed no too until my officers started conducting a Cardboard City.

Cardboard City was an event my chapter conducted for six years where students volunteered to stay 12 hours in a cardboard shelter to raise awareness for homelessness in their community. 

I know! Sounds crazy but every year I had 60-70% of my chapter willingly volunteer even if it was 40 degrees!

I know what you’re thinking…was I crazy to willingly stay with 60-70 high school students in 40 degree weather? YES…but it was for a good cause and something my students were passionate about.

So how did we keep students’ interest and keep them from driving us crazy?...keep them intentionally busy!

Here are some of the activities we included to modify and maximize the event each year:

  • COLLABORATE: Our chapter teamed up with Covington-UVCC FFA, a neighboring chapter and the 2021 National Models of Excellence winner, to conduct the event. This increased advisor supervision and brought in new ideas each year.

  • CANNED FOOD DRIVE: Students were required to donate at least 10 food items to participate. The grade with the highest percentage of donated items received hot chocolate at midnight. 

  • BEST SHELTER CONTEST: Students brought their own cardboard and duct tape; FFA provided box cutters and scissors. Students spent the first hour of the event building a shelter. We gave out hot hands to the best overall shelter, largest/smallest shelters and most unique shelter. 

  • ICEBREAKERS: Like mentioned before, we teamed up with another FFA chapter. Officers from both chapters conducted icebreakers to let students get to know the other attendees, such as FFA Member BINGO.

  • MINUTE TO WIN IT GAMES: Officers facilitated stations with Minute to Win It games and Team-building games to focus students’ attention on the task at hand.

  • SCAVENGER HUNT: Students paired together to participate in a nature scavenger hunt where they were required to find various items before it became dark.

  • SOUP KITCHEN: FFA officers volunteered to bring in a crockpot of soup. Attendees were served soup - this was the only food they were permitted to eat during the event.

  • GUEST SPEAKERS: FFA officers invited a guest speaker each year to discuss homelessness or a related topic, such as advocacy or mental health. 

  • BLESSING BOTTLES: Attendees assembled Blessing Bottles for the local homeless shelter; one year we also had National FFA Convention attendees distribute the bottles to homeless in Indianapolis. These bottles contained socks, gloves and hygiene products within a water bottle.

  • BLANKETS: Officers sourced fleece fabric from Walmart and a local fabric store and participants created tie blankets to be donated to the local shelter. These blankets and other supplies were funded through Living to Serve Grants - read my tips and tricks to these grants in the Paying for the POA blog post.

  • INSPIRATIONAL SIGNS: Students wrote inspirational quotes on pieces of cardboard in lieu of a homeless sign they might pass on the streets in Indianapolis.

  • NEWS OUTLETS: Officers invited local news stations to conduct a news spotlight on the event. 

This event was a staple in our POA for numerous years and was included in our National Chapter Application resulting in our chapter being a Models of Excellence Premier Chapter in the nation twice and the top chapter in Ohio for Building Communities twice. Want to implement this event into your POA? Download a copy of the Permission Slip and Rules/Schedule, and reach out to The Owl’s Nest at with questions.