Friday, January 19, 2007

Sleepout for the Homeless at U. Florida

U. Florida fraternity spends sleepless night to aid homeless
By Jennifer Keil, Independent Florida Alligator

Music thumped and bodies bumped on Turlington Plaza until 3 a.m. Monday as the University of Florida Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity hosted its annual Sleepout for the Homeless event. A distinctly partylike atmosphere pervaded Turlington Plaza late Sunday night and into Monday morning as a live disc jockey, giant movie projector, free food and PlayStation 2 video games entertained the nearly 400 people in attendance.

"It has a block-party feel, but also a sense of awareness and giving back to the community," said event coordinator William Atkins, a tourism, recreation and sport management junior.

The event benefited the St. Francis House homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Tables were piled high with bags of clothing and nonperishable food items to be donated to St. Francis House. Monetary donations were also collected at the sleepout.

Although the fraternity had to get permits from UF to hold the event on campus and receive donations, the administration was very supportive, said Michael Mitchell, an engineering junior and president of Alpha Phi Alpha.

"They know the mission -- the whole objective of the event -- so they're very supportive," Mitchell, 20, said.Alpha Phi Alpha has been hosting the Sleepout for the Homeless for 11 years, and the formula seems to be working.

"You don't have to reinvent the wheel," Atkins, 20, said. "This is a recurring event, and everyone looks forward to it each spring."Sleepout for the Homeless is always held on the Sunday evening before Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the kickoff to Alpha Week, a weeklong series of activities and events held by the fraternity.

The timing is especially meaningful to Alpha Phi Alpha because Martin Luther King Jr. was a distinguished member of the fraternity.

The week culminates Friday with a presentation of the donated goods and money to St. Francis House on Turlington Plaza at 12:30 p.m.

Sleepout for the Homeless is not the only time of year St. Francis House sees Alpha Phi Alpha."We go as a chapter on a monthly basis and volunteer in the soup kitchen," Mitchell said. "Some members even go more on their own."