Making it through the first week was a challenge to say the least. Running water, heat and privacy was no longer the daily norm and staying warm was our main priority. The seventh day brought the coldest night of the year, with temperatures falling to the teens. Keeping warm was a struggle.
The next morning brought frost and a cold that felt as though it were trying to suffocate me with every breath I took. AJ, my filming partner, and I were the only ones who woke for breakfast, a trend that would happen more and more through the weeks, and we couldn’t have arrived sooner. Inside, the building was filled with people who were as cold, if not colder, than us. The luxury of a sleeping bag wasn’t one most had in Tent City, most lying on the floor of their tents covered in as many blankets as they could find.
Eating the eggs, the slop of grits and soggy toast was the least of my worries that morning. I was just happy to have a meal and stay out of the cold, even if it was for only 30 minutes.
“I hate grits,” said AJ, “you want them?”
“Na man,” I replied, “thanks though.”
I hate grits too, but, when you’re hungry you’ll eat just about anything. Three packets of sugar, a little syrup if there were pancakes that morning, and they’re not too bad.
I couldn’t help but think of how we were going to stay warm with the little bit of wood we had left at the camp. Finishing up and heading back we decided it was time to cut down our first tree.
Walking in the camp we grabbed an axe and handsaw then walked into the woods, but not too far in since we were already living in them. Coming across a tree that looked fairly easy to knock down, about 10 inches in circumference, I aimed the axe like a baseball player getting ready to take his stance, and with all my strength, I swung. The axe hurled through the air and hit the tree. It didn’t seem to even put a dent into it. I picked it up and swung, again and again, until finally, splinters began to fly away in all directions.
AJ decided it was his turn to swing for a bit, which I didn’t mind since I had grown tired due to lack of lumberjack training. Swinging and finally knocking it down, we cut off the branches and chopped the tree into logs.
Laying the wood in the fire pit, smoke began to grow thicker and finally a flame flickered to life. The pop from the fresh sap still in the logs was a sign of hope that we had successfully started the fire back up and were about to be warm.
As the rest of the camp began to wake, they quickly scrambled to the fireside, arms extended as if they were impersonating Frankenstein. The sound of clicking teeth began to die out as people began to get warmer. As the sun rose higher into the sky, the air started to warm and the daily routine started once again.
The constant smell of fire would linger on our clothes, displeasing any who had not been around the fire themselves. As the fire grew larger and larger, I walked into my tent to sweep it out and pick up.
Having four people in a tent can get kind of messy. Now that it was dropping into the teens at night, we invited Brittany and Shane, founders of Camp PS 91, to stay with us to keep the body heat up.
The first week of school started back up and the cold restless nights started to take its toll. I have to give credit to AJ too, he was working long hours at KYTX CBS 19 and still maintained filming and living in the camp. We were able to be in a building most of the day, I attended classes and worked on the newspaper, but we missed meals not being able to leave and make it to the Salvation Army on time. Fortunately, we were often blessed to have donors bring food and water for such instances.