Octogenarian eager to sleep in a box to benefit the homeless

Renée Kiriluk-Hill/Hunterdon Democrat By Renée Kiriluk-Hill/Hunterdon Democrat Hunterdon County Democrat


It’s not the usual bucket-list item for an octogenarian: Sleep overnight in a cardboard box to benefit the homeless.

But the only thing that will stop Gloria Tafaro, 82, is lightning. “I don’t want to be on the ground if the lighting starts striking,” she said from the Holland Township home she shares with her younger son, pediatric dentist Dr. Stephen Tafaro.

“I’m not ready to leave this earth yet.”

She was inspired to join Family Promise of Hunterdon County Box City, which will be held the night of May 31-June 1 at Hunterdon Central High School, after hearing the nonprofit’s development director, Colleen Duerr, speak at a Holland Township Women’s Club meeting two years ago. Then a bad knee got in the way.

“I told my doctor I was planning on sleeping in a box, is that alright?” she said. “He told me, ‘My kids have boxes in the basement. You can come sleep in them.’ I think he thought I was a little off-center.”

Now the knee’s better, and Tafaro convinced two friends to join her. Anna Fusco and Pat Chimiel area also senior citizens living in Holland Township, but are both more than a decade younger than Tafaro.

The women comprise the “Golden Ladies” team in this year’s Box City event. It’s an appropriate name — Tafaro’s humor is reminiscent of The Golden Girls TV sitcom.

“We’re all psyched!” she said, “We have our boxes and we tried them out. I’m tall so they had to cut another box and make mine longer. I got down and slid right in it.”

When “Anna complained, ‘I can’t get in it,’ Pat said, ‘Maybe your butt’s too big.'” We’re fixing is so we can flip the lid up if we all have to go to the potty.

“We thought maybe we’d bring some wine, then we got the note that said no pets, no alcoholic beverages. So I guess we’ll have pizza and soda. I’ll have a water bottle, but I won’t drink too much. I don’t want to make 5 million trips to the bathroom.”

No way will she try to sneak in something stronger. “I follow the rules. I have Catholic guilt,” she said. “God forbid the nun comes down and smacks me on the side of the head.”

Tafaro is an active member of St. Edward the Confessor in Milford. One of her volunteer activities there is planning programs for the Golden Agers group, which she started a couple of years ago. She invited Duerr to speak after hearing her talk earlier about Family Promise.

“I’m in good health, I can’t think of a better cause,” Tafaro said. “We’re doing our best to raise money, it’s adding up. I ask people to what they each can afford. If they can’t, that’s OK.”

The ladies have raised more than their online account shows, said Tafaro, because they haven’t added direct community giving in yet.

Tafaro has lived in Holland Township for nine years, moving here from Schnecksville, Pa., although she considers herself a “Jersey Girl,” having grown up and lived for many years in Essex and Morris counties, and worked in offices.

Fusco and Chimiel, on the other hand, are long-time Hunterdon residents. “They’re like natives, you know. They know everything that was knocked down.”

She ended up in Pennsylvania when her husband, Dan, retired. They moved near son Daniel and his family, and she stayed after her husband passed away.

Then Tafaro was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and had a kidney removed. Son Daniel had since moved to the Midwest so she moved in with Stephen and plunged into her new community with gusto.

“I kind of have my own privacy, my own quarters,” she said. “But I’m out all day, I’m out all night. I do enjoy my life! I walk 3-4 miles almost every day. You can’t go back, you have to go forward. You have to keep your mind young.”

That wicked humor comes through again. “My son’s getting married again. Maybe I will be getting some experience here, maybe I will be sleeping in a box.”

Maybe she’ll get pneumonia sleeping in the box, she says. “My son (Daniel) keeps telling me about all that moisture from the ground. He’ll probably be calling me every two minutes. I’ll probably have to shut my phone off.”

She laughs. “I’m rarin’ to go! I have a few things on the bucket list that I want to do before I leave this earth.”

Participants raise pledges to become a citizen of Box City and then sleep in a box —snagged from local stores and decorated that evening — overnight to raise money and awareness for homelessness in Hunterdon County.

Boxes are reserved from local retailers, picked up and decorated by Box City’s residents-for-a-night. The Golden Ladies will have a red-white-and-blue decorating theme of “stars and stripes forever,” in honor of Memorial Day, said Tafaro.

The deadline to register for Box City is May 30. Participants are asked to raise at least $30 and there are prizes for top fundraisers. In past years it has brought in at least $20,000 to help local families who are homeless or at risk for becoming so.

There will be food, games and entertainment and, weather permitting, an outdoor movie at Box City. Participants may also register to stay only until 11 p.m. on May 31. For more, call 908-782-2490.