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The "alleyway" at Clarence High School is the area between the two wings where they usually park the snowplows. But this Friday night, the alleyway will become home to more than 200 students and teachers.

It's time for Clarence High School's annual sleepout to benefit the poor and homeless. For the past 10 years, the student council has sponsored this event, raising more and more money each year for charities in Western New York.

The sleepout is always held the first Friday in February. At around 8 p.m., students and faculty, clad in cold-weather gear, gather to bear the elements until 6 a.m. This year, more than 200 students have signed up to participate, more than any year in the past.

No other school in the area allows students to spend an entire night outside. Many other schools have lockouts or sleep-outs that are done inside, or only with faculty members.

Students and teachers arrive at the school around 8 p.m. and begin setting up their cardboard boxes and tents. (Area appliance stores donate refrigerator and washer/dryer boxes.) Many upperclassmen take the initiative to build castles with the boxes. In the past four years, we have seen boxes with carpeting and two levels.

The school cafeteria is staffed all night with volunteers from the Parent Teacher Organization. Students can come inside and get cookies or warm soup and take a few minutes to thaw out.

Activities go on all night. Some students play hockey or lacrosse on the sports field with teachers, some sing campfire songs and do dances. Others do their homework in their boxes, trying not to get their papers wet with snow.

At around 3 a.m., it gets a little quiet. There may be snow falling. Some students may be asleep. Some may be sitting in circles playing cards or charades. But everyone is having a good time.

Students raise money by collecting pledges. Also area businesses contribute money and supplies. This year the student council hopes to raise more than $15,000 for eight charities.

The only criticism the sleepout has received is that the students are "trying to be homeless." This event is symbolic. We are representing the fact that many ARE homeless. We are not trying to imitate their behavior, but raise awareness and money. This will be my fourth year doing thesleepout. It's good to know that because you care, someone else is benefiting.

Donations are essential to the sleepout's success. Contributions can be mailed to Clarence High School Sleepout/9625 Main St./Clarence, N.Y., 14031.

Maria Pendolino is a senior at Clarence High School.

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