Cardboard Box City Once Again Delivers Important Message on Homelessness

May 02, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Amid the fog and coolness in the air, several makeshift dwellings stand outside the St. Mary of the Pines parish center during Family Promise of Southern Ocean County's annual Cardboard Box City fundraising event on April 27.

For several years, Marge Rydarowski was caught in a difficult situation. The single mother of two daughters had a boyfriend who said he loved her, but his actions said otherwise.

“Domestic violence isn’t always a physical thing,” said Rydarowski as she shared her story with an audience of several dozen during Family Promise of Southern Ocean County’s annual fundraiser, Cardboard Box City, inside St. Mary’s Parish Center in Manahawkin on April 27. “Domestic violence can be emotional, mental, sexual and financial. It took awhile for me to realize that.”

Rydarowski had a choice to make – stay and take the abuse, which was straining her relationship with her daughters, Taran and Katie, or take her girls and leave the situation. But leaving meant the possibility of being homeless, and that wasn’t something she wanted.

“The most important thing was for my daughters to be safe and happy,” she said. “I needed to do whatever it took to make that happen. Family Promise was the answer to all my prayers.”

As with previous years, Cardboard Box City was an opportunity for families and/or individuals to get a glimpse into the lives of those in homeless situations, and gain some insight into their plights as they struggle to get moving in a better direction. Once participants set up their dwellings for the night and a simple meal was provided by Ken’s Kitchen, several activities were on the agenda – the popular humanized version of “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” and a scavenger hunt designed to take participants through the various aspects of being homeless and trying to move ahead.

Afterward, participants listened to Rydarowski’s story and how Family Promise helped, and then heard from her daughters during a brief question-and-answer period with Family Promise Director Elizabeth Golla, who at the time of Rydarowski and her family’s stay in the program was the case manager.

“At first, I wasn’t sure how it would work for us in the program,” Rydarowski said. “We were going to be going from church to church, and Taran had just been diagnosed with autism and didn’t handle change very well, so I was concerned with that. But Liz kept assuring me it would be OK and that everything would work out. She truly cared for us. That was different than what I got with most resources, where they almost slammed the door in your face most of the time. And the volunteers at the churches were amazing. They went out of their way to make us comfortable.”

Once out of the Family Promise program, Rydarowski and her daughters eventually moved into an apartment. Things are going well, she said. Now she and a friend are planning to start their own temporary housing program for women trying to move on from a domestic violence situation.

“Women in those situations have to know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “All the suffering and heartache I went through was part of God’s plan to use me to help others find their path, either to a new place to live or to God himself.”

As for Family Promise, things also are moving along well. Golla said the organization raised a lot more money last year, and this year, so far, has seen an increase in exposure through various sources, including an affiliation with the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce and Stockton University.

“We clearly need more funding,” she said. “But we have more congregations on board, more staff and more amazing volunteers. We never had the opportunity to go out and network, and now we do. We have a website that’s functioning, and our social media presence is growing. We now have a face among the public. Things are going in the right direction, and I’m grateful for that.”

Several of Cardboard Box City’s younger participants hadn’t known much about Family Promise prior to the event. In fact, Gloria Groff – part of a youth group from a church in Tuckerton – didn’t hear of the organization until she signed up for Cardboard Box City and started asking for pledges.

“I found out through the church, and I thought it would be fun to try it out,” said Gloria, who not only acquired 26 pledges, but also accumulated the most money through them, a whopping $545. “All I did was ask if people would like to help the homeless. One person researched Family Promise, but most of them didn’t. Now that I know about this, I’m going to try to do it every year.”

For more information about Family Promise of Southern Ocean County, including volunteering, fundraising and other ways to help out, visit or call 609-994-3317.

— David Biggy

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