Home Sweet Home Ministries has been serving the homeless and hungry with Christ’s love in Bloomington, Illinois since 1917. On the eve of their 100th anniversary, they held a gala fundraiser with a dinner and auction. But while the event was a successful fundraiser, it did little to raise awareness or advance the agency’s mission. This realization led to their new annual fundraiser – Night In A Car.
As the name suggests, teams of people raise money from sponsors to spend a night in their car. The event takes place on the first Friday in February so that participants can get a genuine taste of what it might be like to live rough in the middle of a Midwestern winter. And the event always kicks off with a creative educational experience.
One year the library brought their bookmobile to the event and ran an all-ages storytime featuring books on poverty and homelessness. Another year, Home Sweet Home offered a selection of workshops, including one in which participants played a food insecurity game.
Last year, they set up an escape room called the Four Seasons of Homelessness. It consisted of four rooms, each representing a different season of the year. The summer room was kept unbearably hot, while the winter room was freezing cold. Each room had a padlocked door and a series of homelessness-inspired clues that had to be solved in order to get the combination. In one room, for example, participants had no health insurance and couldn’t buy glasses, so they had to read a rental application while wearing a pair of goofy goggles that distorted their vision. But best of all, the guides leading participants from room to room were all current or former clients of Home Sweet Home.
The event concludes on Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., when a hot breakfast is served and participants can reflect on their experiences with one another.
In 2019, the event raised $89,000. While the majority of that came from the teams, which brought in an average of $1,000 each, Home Sweet Home also attracted corporate sponsors. Their success in reaching out to the local business community is a testament to their long presence and solid reputation in Bloomington. But, CEO Mary Ann Pullin, believes they’ve also been aided by the fact that this is Home Sweet Home’s only annual fundraiser. So business sponsors know that they won’t receive multiple requests for support from the agency.
Night In A Car checks all the boxes for a successful fundraising event. It brings in a great deal of money, but also gets people excited and provides them with a genuine learning experience and a deeper appreciation for what it means to be homeless.