If you weren't aware of the event activity, you'd think a sanitation truck had left a few boxes behind in St. Luke Church's 84 Long Lots Road parking lot. On closer inspection, you would realize that these were temporary shelters and had been purposely placed there.

The boxes, some 20 structures in all, were erected by 30 teenagers who are part of St. Luke's Youth Group. The teens planned to spend the overnight in the temporary shelter to raise awareness of the plight of an estimated 33,000 homeless individuals residing in Connecticut and to help drive food donations for Fairfield's Operation Hope.

"My son goes to Osborn Hill and, noting his school's efforts with Operation Hope, I decided to see what else we could do to help going into the holiday season," said St. Luke Youth Program Director Deb Toner.

"The project idea 'Outside of the Box' was initiated about a year and a half ago, but we wanted to wait until the temperatures dropped so we could experience what it would be like to not have a warm home ... and proper meal," added Toner.

Toner noted that "building" materials were limited to a box, tape and spray paint, while food supplies would be water and hot dogs only for 12 hours. Toner said the food restriction would be "tough for teenagers" and "if anyone brings candy or breaks the restriction, they would have to go in the penalty box."

The food drive, initiated on Oct. 17, will continue through tomorrow. All donated food will be trucked to Operation Hope's 50 Nichols St. shelter facility to benefit its residents. The items most needed, which are being collected at St. Luke, include beans, canned tomatoes, cake mixes, powdered milk, canned meats and stews. A full list of needs is available on the organization's website: www.OperationHopeCT.org

Setting up shelter

Timmy Jeanneret, 15, was busy putting last minute touches on his box structure. He had bought three 20-inch Fed Ex boxes and was taping them together. "I'm going to slide right in and close both ends. It should hopefully be warm. I brought some extra clothing to add onto what I'm wearing," he said.

Project Co-Organizer and Norwalk resident Allison Love said some of the students would be sharing boxes, for warmth, and that a bonfire was planned, around which students will sit and roast their hot dogs.

Jill Toner, 15, Deb's daughter, was unraveling a sleeping bag in which she planned to sleep inside her box. She had created a little tree with a welcome sign outside its entrance. Her box home was massive -- a Samsung refrigerator box in its past life. On its top side, she had spray painted "Out of the Box" and, on one side, the names of some of her fellow participating students.

"I'm very excited about this," said Jill. "It's something new. I think it'll be really fun. Of course, I couldn't imagine living like this and it makes me feel for the people that have to, especially in the cold."

Project Captain Emily Hanrahan, 16, a Staples High School student, was settling into her own box. It, too, was massive, having housed a Kohler whirlpool bathtub. She had spray painted it with graffiti but had also handrawn a scene she had dubbed "Boxville," which in essence referred to this temporary community that the students had formed. She planned to room with Co-Project Leader Elizabeth Driscoll.

"It's a wake-up call for all of us to realize there are so many homeless. I think it's going to be hard to spend the overnight outside. It will be a challenge, but fun. I think it's supposed to drop to 40 degrees," guessed Hanrahan.

Deb Toner noted that Saturday -- Oct. 23 -- was Westport Make-A-Difference Day, which is how the event day was selected. She added that the Youth Group's good deeds also include such efforts as an annual mission trip, wherein students travel to other communities to bond with other Catholic teens, paint houses and help in soup kitchens.

The Youth Group was formed four years ago and has gone from 5 to 54 students, with 40 students participating at any given time. "We have a very high participation rate," said Toner. "The fact that they're coming on their own ... it's fantastic."