PEORIA — About 50 people from all ages spent Friday night in a cardboard box outside the Civic Center to raise awareness of the plight of homelessness in the community.

Gimme Shelter also is a fundraiser for South Side Office of Concern, an organization focused on getting people off the streets, putting them into permanent homes, and offering whatever services they need to make sure they stay there.

Kristen Berchtold, director of development for South Side Office of Concern, said those involved Friday night raised $1,000 or more spreading the word about the cause.

"These people just get to experience it for one night," Berchtold said. "There are hundreds of people in our community that have to deal with it every night all winter long, so the fact that it is cold brings out the point even more."

Deb Golden, who will be 61 Monday, brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bottle of water, and a couple of friends to keep her company throughout the cold night.

"I've been very successful collecting money for it, and I'm very excited because I think we're going to be very close to our goal before the night is over," Golden said.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, the event had raised more than $44,000. The goal was to raise $50,000 by Saturday morning.

Jay Scholl and Zach Oyler, both from Peoria, are first-time volunteers for the South Side Office of Concern. Oyler, who is a candidate for the City Council in the spring, said everyone lives, works, and goes by the Downtown area but they don't realize that on any given corner, there could be someone who doesn't have a place to live.

"It's important to see and experience the issues that affect everybody in the community, not just the ones you interact with on a daily basis," Oyler said. "I think that if you want to get involved in public service, this is a prime way to come out and not only see it but understand it and feel it when it's not something that you may deal with on a regular basis."

Scholl said the project goes beyond raising awareness for others.

"It's hard to remember the conditions some people have to live with," Scholl said. "You don't even think about it, and spending one night outside in the middle of January in central Illinois just really makes you think about that."

The organization also held 20-minute educational presentations inside the Civic Center. Topics included child, youth, family and veteran homelessness; cost of homelessness; and best practices for ending it, among others.

All funds raised will go toward ending homelessness in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties.

Elisa Marques can be reached at 686-3194 and emarques@pjstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/elisacmarques.