CHATHAM, NJ - The 7th annual Chatham Cross-Country Bridges Outreach event was held Thursday and Friday.
Bridges Outreach, based in Summit, has a 25-year history of homeless outreach, serving people in New York City, Newark and Irvington.
Cross Country families collaborated with Chatham's Stanley Church to donate enough food to make 300 brown bag lunches. The bags were decorated by first and second graders from Caitlin Cuffe and Andie Elwell's classes at Washington Avenue school in Chatham.
Athletes from both the boys and girls teams joined by coach Patrick Barry and church members gathered at Stanley Thursday night to make the lunches at lightning speed. It took under an hour to make and pack up all three hundred lunches.
On Friday evening a smaller group: Yulan and Yuwen Zhang, Kevin Gesell, Bo Radaam, Liam Cadden, Kathleen Mahon from the team, with Pastor Jocelyn Emerson, Cheren Alvarado, Emily Bazewicz, Laura McCormick, Sharon Dougherty and Lucy Malatesta from Stanley, packed the lunches in the iconic yellow Bridges truck and headed into Manhattan.
There were two stops on the Lower West Side, near the heliport and close to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The first stop was mostly populated by homeless men of many ethnicities, Asian, Hispanic, Eastern Eurpoean and African American. They waited patiently while volunteers handed out soup and hot chocolate, chatting up everyone on line. As the men filtered through the line, they were given the brown bag lunches and a pair of donated men's pants, hopefully in the right size.
The second stop had more women and children. The routine was the same, soup, hot chocolate and lining up for lunches and clothes, but there was a little more time for conversation. "Regulars" John and King told us stories of their lives and seem to have a real camraderie. Volunteers Kevin and Laura used their Chatham High School Spanish to determine that one gentleman needed "zapatos" size "ocho." (size 8 shoes).
Bridges will try to get them on the truck next time. Bridges driver Keith told us that the beautiful little girls we met, Princess and Kimberly Ann are really and truly homeless and are currently living "in shelter."
Going on a Bridges run is always an eye and heart opening expereince. The teenaged volunteers did an excellent job providing sustenance, but perhaps, more importantly, offering kindness and respect to a population that is often overlooked. Chatham Cross Country ends their season with this wonderful event every year.
Visit www.bridgesoutreach.org if you want your team, school, house of worship, or business to get involved.