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Aid for Friends Awareness Encampment to be held virtually due to COVID-19

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) — Once again there will be no burn barrel or cardboard boxes at Caldwell Park for the Aid For Friends Homeless Awareness Encampment.

The 15th renewal of the event that raises awareness of the growing homelessness problem in Southeast Idaho will for the second consecutive year be held virtually due to COVID-19.

“It is regrettable we must modify the Encampment due to the pandemic,” Aid For Friends Executive Director B.J. Stensland said. “But we want to protect everyone’s health. We are hoping that circumstances will revert to normal and next year the Encampment will be held as usual.”

“Usual” is volunteers who have collected pledges sleeping in cardboard boxes in possible frigid temperatures in Caldwell Park, eating a soup kitchen dinner and keeping warm around a burn barrel to remind us all of the plight of the homeless as well as raise funds for AFF services. The Encampment is the largest single fundraiser annually for AFF.

Last year’s Encampment, also held virtually, raised $16,125.

Since 2007, more than $198,790 has been raised.

Stensland is urging volunteers to support the AFF Encampment in their own way. She challenges participants to hold mini-Encampments in their own backyards, using their own materials, maybe a tent or tarp, to build a shelter.

“You can sleep alone or with family or friends who are willing to brave the cold so the homeless in our community are spared from living out in the harsh elements,” she said.

Participants are urged to secure pledges for their night out to support the AFF homeless shelter. All cash and checks received will also be credited as donations for the Avenues of Hope Campaign Dec. 9-31 to bolster AFF’s chances of winning cash prizes.

Participants should also post photos of their mini-Encampments on their Facebook pages and tag the AFF Facebook page.

“We are keeping some traditions, but modifying them slightly,” Stensland said. “We will set up the Canteen at Caldwell Park during the day of Dec. 4 to serve hot chocolate, coffee, hot apple cider and goodies to any visiting passersby with a donations bucket available. Boy Scout Troop 315 will once again serve its famous beef and vegetable soup along with sandwiches, but this year it will be served to our clients at the new homeless shelter. What a wonderful way to celebrate our new facility.”

AFF has moved into its new facility at 209 E. Lewis—it doubles the old facility’s capacity, triples the number of beds to more than 100, has state-of-the-art security and is ADA compliant. Among the amenities are appropriate living quarters, commercial kitchen, large dining area, mini-laundry with multiple machines, a playground and separate sleeping areas with more privacy for single men, single women, couples and households with children.

Originally a homeless shelter that provided lodging and some meals, Aid For Friends has evolved into a multi-faceted resource center serving many. The agency was born during the savage Pocatello winter of 1983-84 when one young man froze to death while trying to find shelter in a dumpster and another had a foot amputated because no shelter services operated here.

In the fall of 2007, Aid For Friends was facing a financial crisis that threatened its future. A new Board member went to her church with the news. The consensus was that AFF needed an event that would raise awareness as well as funds and so the project began. A band of volunteers met and developed the event that would symbolize the plight of being homeless by spending the night in Caldwell Park in cardboard shelters or camping tents.  

Contributions for the 2021 event may be sent to Aid For Friends, P. O. Box 4233, Pocatello, ID 83205. Please add “Encampment” to the memo line on the check.

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