When Michelle Boyle and her marketing team at St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore were planning their 2020 fundraising event to raise funds and draw awareness around the issue of ending homelessness, they had it all planned out.

They were calling the event Equinox. It would be held Sept. 19 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry with a waterfront backdrop, with great food and music. As a provider of community services to people suffering from the effects of hunger, homelessness, and poverty, organizers said they knew they could expect at least 500 people to support the event. Then Covid-19 hit.

“We were stunned like everyone else that we were faced with the decision to postpone or cancel our inaugural event,” Boyle said. “However, safety is our top priority and we quickly shifted focus to a new way we could still raise awareness and funds to help end homelessness, but keep everyone safe.”

That new way, Boyle was said, was “The Sleep Out Challenge, an online campaign to raise funds and awareness to end homelessness locally.” Through Sept. 19, participants are asked to “Sleep Out and Share the Light” by posting a photo on social media (@svdpbaltimore, #sleepoutchallenge). The Sleep Out Challenge may include a tent with a flashlight, a sleeping bag with a battery-powered lantern on a deck or porch or sitting around a fire or open a window and “sleep out” in a living room with a single candle or other lighting. Participants are asked to donate $25 and tag four people to participate in the challenge.

St. Vincent de Paul operates 22 programs across 16 sites in the Baltimore-metropolitan area, runs four shelters and rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing programs. While it receives the bulk of its funding from state and federal programs, officials said the organization relies heavily on donor support for the extra services it provides to meet individual needs, including paying overdue utility bills or unpaid medical expenses.

While the organization is still assessing the impact of COVID, officials said it provides 5,000 meals a day along with caring for individuals in shelters. Boyle said she believes at some point various public relief programs will run out, which makes the work of St. Vincent de Paul even more important.

“As this pandemic is prolonged, we must focus on the economically vulnerable. Individuals and families who live paycheck to paycheck, balancing their debt month to month,” Boyle said. “While sheltering and offering housing services to those who fall into homelessness is vital, an important part of our ongoing work in the Baltimore area is preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless in the first place. That’s why raising awareness and funds is so vital. Each time we prevent a family from falling into homelessness we all win.”

To date, St. Vincent de Paul has raised $50,000 of its $75,000 goal. More information about the The Sleep Out Challenge may be found at https://www.vincentbaltimore.org/ways-to-give/sleepoutchallenge/.

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Walinda West

Walinda West is an experienced communications professional who has served a variety of clients at the local, state and national level and is a longtime writer for Baltimore Fishbowl.