When members of Boy Scout Troop 161 bed down tonight on the grounds of the Independence Corps of The Salvation Army, they will awake Saturday morning with a better understanding of the hardships and discomforts the homeless encounter daily. Under the leadership of Scoutmaster Heath Freiley, Troop 161, sponsored by East Alton Community of Christ, is using a survival camping outing this weekend to raise money and necessities for The Salvation Army's Crossroads Family Emergency Center.

“(The Scouts) are going to come and raise funds – whether it's money or products – that benefit the shelter , while at the same time, they give back to the community,” says Heath. “It's good for the community and The Salvation Army. It's a win-win for everybody.”

Now in his second year as Scoutmaster, Heath says the fundraising event – “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” – was his idea and that of another woman at the church.

“We collaborated and put it together,” he recalls, noting the first “Cold Hands, Warm Hearts” endeavor was held last year, with less than $200 raised. “But as far as hard goods (collected), I would say we raised between $1,500 and $2,000. They provided us a small cargo van and we would fill grocery carts and put all the products in there. And I think we filled 14 carts.”

What motivated the fundraiser, Heath says, was his desire to do something with the troop that was kind of untraditional. And what better way to do it, he thought, than do a survival-type campout, and as funds are being raised, collaborate with somebody and put the thing together.

Says Heath: "What I mean is we generally like to take the boys out and do survival camping. That's all well and fun, you know. So what do you do? You go out, take your tarp and build a tent. But what are you going to get out of it.? Then we got to talking about how we could benefit the community. How can we generate service hours for the boys and community service to the community in order to advance in rank. So we thought, 'Well, let's kinda put all these ideas together, and we came up with “'Cold Hands, Warm Hearts.'”

Heath says the goal is to generate a sample of what a homeless person would potentially experience.

“For me, I see guys under bridges within the city and they don't have anything. They have a bag over their shoulder with their personal belongings. That's all they have,” he says, adding: “So what we are trying to do here is to get these boys to understand they are going to be very limited to what they get. They get the luxury of bringing a sleeping bag, coats and gloves – those things that they have – but they don't get the luxury of sleeping in a tent. They do have two options. They can bring a simple cardboard box to sleep in, or I will provide them a 10-by-10 foot tarp to sleep in. That's all they get.”

The Scouts are asking for such donations as pillows, twin blankets, twin sheets, soap, shampoos, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hygiene items, hair care products for African-Americans, diapers, towels, wash cloths, combs, brushes and monetary gifts.

Following a “community-style breakfast” cooked over an open fire on top of a hobo stove, the Scouts will begin receiving donations at their camp site on the east side of the circle drive from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. After camping out Saturday night, the Scouts will attend Sunday morning worship at The Salvation Army.

What will the Scouts take home from their weekend encounter?

Says Heath: “I really hope these boys learn the value of what they have. Some people in life don't appreciate what they have. They don't understand how lucky they are to have a house. How lucky they are to have a job or the clothes on their back or the car they drive.”

Major Dean Towne of the The Salvation Army says the thing he likes about “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is that it teaches the boys service and giving to the community.

“And that's a valuable things for kids to learn, because when they become adults, then that carries on into their adult life,” he says, “and who knows where it could lead as far as their giving to the community that they live in. It is so important people do that by teaching (the Scouts) – even in a small way – the advantage of giving to other people who don't have very much. When they become adults, they remember that. And they do that.”

As for Heath, he hopes the kids remember “a small fraction” of what was done here and understand not about who was helped, but know they are helping somebody who will benefit from what was done here.

“We may never know who that person is, but I know we are helping somebody.”


-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.