Among the greatest ongoing tragedies in the United States is the fact that in a nation of plenty, with more than enough riches to take care of everyone within its borders, homeless individuals and families can be found in virtually every community across the nation.
During a time when many Americans celebrate that abundance, some residents in the Southern portion of Surry County remember those without by holding Cardboard City the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.
Locally, this yearly event takes place at Elkin Municipal Park benefiting The ARK shelter for homeless women and families.
“Thanksgiving is such a special time of year,” said Cynthia Cothren, director of The ARK. “We have so much to be thankful for throughout the whole year, but especially now.”
Cothren was exceptionally grateful as she learned the estimated total earned during Saturday’s Cardboard City event was an unexpected $27,981.
Eidson raised the most money this year with $8,200 by inviting employees to make contributions to keep him homeless a little longer.
“We were grateful for that,” said Cothren. “This is our major fundraiser so it’s make or break for us, but it’s fun to see all the people here who support us all year long.”
Part of the reason it was more like a block party than a homeless hangout was the weather.
“The weather was especially enjoyable this year compared to recent years,” said Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital CEO Paul Hammes. “It’s a little warmer and a little dryer so we’re thankful for that as well.”
“Last year was gale force winds so the weather was just perfect,” said Cothren.
The pleasant weather may have contributed to the good turn out, but the trend was already in place in spite of other more wintry rendtions of the event.
“It gets bigger and better every year,” said Hammes, whose wife Dana also enjoyed the evening.
“I think it’s fantastic. Everyone’s creative,” said Dana. “They raised a lot of money and did a good job.”
Carol McDowell was one of those who helped raised a lot of money.
“Carol quilts for us every year and it’s awesome,” said Jane Motsinger, The ARK founding board member and Cardboard City organizer.
This year McDowell created a quilt from scraps left over from what is known as a Methodist Man quilt.
McDowell gathered ties from the men of the Elkin First Methodist Church, often requesting them while they were being used. These ties were then made into a going away present for Pastor Mark Barden with the leftover pieces going into a quilt that earned $2,864.
Hal Stewart, a member of the church, was drawn as the winner of the queen-sized quilt that already has gathered generations of stories to it.
“I’m just pleased as punch,” said McDowell, who has created two quilts for Stewart previously, including one from his own neckties.
“People have been so generous, but a Methodist Man ending up with it when it’s the ties of the Methodist Men, it’s just kind of poetic,” said McDowell. “I’m so tickled.”
The quilt was not the only piece that drew memories Saturday.
“First Baptist Church did a box in tribute to Bob Norton. It was a very special box,” said Cothren.
“He was instrumental in getting the [ARK] board to rent a house until we built the [current] house. So he move that forward,” said Cothren.
“I still think that we didn’t ever really know the impact that our dad had on this community,” said the late Norton’s daughter, Caroline.
“We hear stories and we saw him so actively involved, but it’s different when we have someone come up to us and tell us something that he did for them specifically.”
“It wasn’t just the name, it was things that he meant to them. I thought that was the best part,” said Tim Norton, Bob’s son. “It was obviously very touching and it was from our church which made it even more special to us.”
“It’s just been a very emotional evening,” said Ferrell, who had a good relationship with her husband although they were separated. “He was just a wonderful father to the children.”
He was also a wonderful community figure, according to the memories he left behind.
“He loved Elkin,” said Tim to the emphatic agreement of his mother and sister.
“He was always civic minded,” said Ferrell, “always wanted to do something for the town.”
“He loved singing in the church choir and being part of the Community Chorus,” said Caroline. “That was something that we would come down every year and come and support the community in that way.”
Caroline’s favorite memory was an entertaining anecdote her brother had not known about.
“One time I was in high school and Mom was having him put the icicle lights on the house, and he climbed up the ladder and the ladder fell,’ ” Caroline. said.
“He was on the roof yelling ‘Ferrell! Ferrell! I can’t get off the roof,’” said Caroline to a chorus of laughter. “He loved Christmas.”
He also loved his church, serving as a member of the deacon board, Sunday school teacher and various committees as well as the choir and his civic service on the city council and planning board.
“My husband always says you don’t know how much your father impacted his community and the people that met him and it’s true,” said Caroline, “and I just miss him so much. He would be happy that we were here.”
As a hero among his peers, Bob Norton exemplified the message presented by the the box decorated by the Abstract Church.
“[Pastor] Alan [Parsons] always has a theme that you don’t have to be Superman to come and support folks,” said Cothren. “I think that’s great.”
Although Parsons had a great message, it was the box presented by Carolina Farm Credit from Pilot Mountain that received top honors for creativity.
“We work with Steve Motsinger, and his wife Jane let us know about [Cardboard City] and we all just thought it would be a great cause,” said Jocelyn Roten, who estimated their earnings for The ARK to be around $1,700.
Five-year-old Lena Price had a different opinion than the judges did. “[I liked] the one that sparkles and my nana’s was the best because it was mine,” said Lena. “My nana made it for me.”
According to Cothren, first-time participants Price’s Equipment intends to return next year even though if the weather is poor that may help young Lena better understand that being outdoors isn’t always so much fun.
“When people don’t have enough money to have a house, sometimes they have to live in cardboard until they raise up enough money to get them a house,” explained Lena’s mother April Price.
“No TV, no games, no bathroom,” said father Justin Price, however Lena was most impressed that living in a cardboard box meant having no bedroom. “You’d get awful cold because you won’t have no heat.”
Lena decided she was grateful to have a mom and dad who could take care of those kinds of worries and that, “God loves me.”
April, who was also grateful for those things, was appreciative for The ARK as well.
“I’m glad that somebody actually took the time and pulled the [resources] together to create a place for battered women, for homeless women and children,” said April.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.