Students spend night in homeless shelter

By Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune

NORTH ANDOVER — Put aside your image of beer-drinking, partying frat boys.

It certainly doesn’t apply to the 50 brothers of the Sigma Kappa chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon, or TKE, who have teamed up with the Lazarus House of Lawrence for an unusual fundraiser.

Every night this week, a half-dozen or so members of the TKE fraternity at Merrimack College have agreed to spend a night in an on-campus shelter made of pallets, tarps and cardboard boxes. The out-of-place structure, built last weekend by TKE members, is located near the Sakowich Center — the heart and soul of the college.

Wednesday morning, Lazarus House officials visited the site, which is being used as a hub of fundraising for the homeless shelter, soup kitchen, thrift shop and job-training organization.

Michael Neff, a senior from Danvers and president of TKE, said the annual encampment, which has been going on for at least 10 years, is a great way to raise money for a good cause while also raising awareness and learning about the plight of the homeless.

“The night shift starts at 7 p.m.,” he said. “We usually have five to six brothers staying in the box overnight.”

In addition, someone is always scheduled to stand outside the shelter during the day, holding a can and a message scrawled on a piece of cardboard, seeking donations.

 “This helps us and other students learn about some of the struggles homeless people go through to get shelter,” he said, adding that while last year the fraternity made about $3,500, this year the goal is to make $5,000. Once all the money is collected, he said, the fraternity will pass a check to Lazarus House.

Further, TKE has placed bins around campus for a coat drive, Neff said.

“We are collecting coats, hats, gloves, any kind of apparel they want to give away,” he said.

The whole campus seems to be getting into the spirit.

One sorority donated pizzas to the guys spending the night in the shelter, dining services gives them hot chocolate, and other Greek organizations are donating food and money to the cause.

This year, as in years past, the weather has made it that much more real.

“Every year, we have weather complications,” he said. “Last year, we held it in December, and we were fighting wind storms and snow. This year, it’s been raining all week. But we are still committed to it.”