To the Editor:
January 26, 2020
Dear Mr. Cronin and Mrs. Worden’s 5th graders and families, Summit CPC Kindergarteners, CHS volunteers and Stanley Family,
This is my first Bridges Outreach run since my beloved Stanley Congregational Church officially closed on January 12, 2020, but our mission of helping others and teaching young people the joy of service lives on because of partnerships with people like you!
On Friday, January 24, Mr. Cronin and Mrs. Worden’s 5th graders made over 150 lunches in beautifully decorated bags asking us to “Stay Hopeful,” and “Spread the World with Kindness.” Parent volunteers donated the food and helped this project come together in well under an hour! Summit CPC kindergartners also contributed over 60 lunches. The students had great questions about how our homeless friends know where to find Bridges. I explained that like a good friend, Bridges always, always, shows up at the same time, in the same place, no excuses, including crummy weather.
Saturday’s run to Newark definitely included crummy, rainy, weather but that did not stop the volunteers and Bridges’ run coordinators Dave Dawson and Cyprain Mpang from our mission. Several of the Chatham High School volunteers were first-timers and Dave told them what to expect and how to interact with our homeless friends. Dave explained that years ago he was a homeless veteran who needed help and being treated with respect was an important part of getting back on his feet. Use “sir,” or “ma’am,” “a little kindness goes a long way,” he said.
Our first stop was on Martin Luther King Blvd where friends were already lined up. We were surprised to be serving over fifty people on this rainy day, but Dave told us that it was the last Saturday of the month, the time when our friends' other benefits have been used up and Bridges may be their only source of food. Our friends were grateful for the cups of hot chicken noodle soup and cocoa our volunteers handed them as well as for the lunches, toiletries and clothing. Conversation was friendly and I took an informal poll: When you were little did your mother tell you to, “Stay out of the rain so you don’t catch cold,” or did she tell you not to complain about the rain because “you’re not made out of sugar and you won’t melt!” Most people answered “don’t catch cold,” but you know what? None of us melted in the rain so maybe my mom was right after all.
Our second stop was a homeless shelter for men and women. It was nice to get out of the rain and to see our friends safe and dry, but life in a shelter has its challenges too. People were happy to receive the food and toiletries but they had to sit down and eat their lunches right away. They are not allowed to store any food or bring it to their rooms so our donations only helped them for one day.
Our high schoolers took a lot away from this experience. The ride back to Summit was a conversation about compassion, treating people humanely, how Bridges and all of us can help lift people out of homelessness. These young people, our fifth graders and high schoolers, are our future and our two days of outreach seems to have turned a light on, a light of kindness.
Bridges Outreach Run Leader