To the Editor:

Dear Communities of Chatham and Summit:

I am writing to you about Bridges Outreach, headquartered right here in Summit. Some of you have read my “love letters” to the volunteers who make brown bag lunches, the very young children who decorate the bags with rainbows and encouraging phrases, and the teens and adults who help deliver them with a smile and real fellowship to our friends experiencing homelessness. These letters are so cheerful, so many smiling faces. To many, especially in Chatham, I’ve become “the Bridges Lady,” the one who recruits you and your school, sports team or Scout troop to organize a run to Newark, Irvington or Manhattan to help our most vulnerable citizens. You call me to “set your teen up” with volunteer hours for Key Club or National Honors Society.  I like being known for this and I wear my Bridges baseball cap with pride. Lately, that cap has become something of a sandwich board, an advertisement to the stay-at-homers walking and biking around town to stave off cabin fever.

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“Lucy, what is Bridges doing? They must not be able to operate under these conditions.” That’s the typical comment my hat evokes. Then I ask them to listen to my answer because BRIDGES IS OPEN AND OPERATING! True, there are no smiling volunteers and fresh lunches decorated with hearts and rainbows. Things are different at Bridges but they need us more than ever! Bridges Outreach has temporarily stopped using volunteers on the street and is relying solely on its staff. They are not visiting New York City and have switched their focus to Newark. Four outreach runs a week has turned into seven days a week from 4:00 pm to 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., cooperating with city agencies to feed and find shelter for our friends experiencing homelessness. The staff is committed to this work, and they are taking every precaution, but the fatigue is layered with another hard fact: with the loss of volunteers comes the loss of donations. Volunteer groups come with a promise of 250 brown bag lunches, no volunteers, no lunches. These lunches must now be purchased.

Please help. Visit www.bridgesoutreach.org  and click on the “give” tab for much needed monetary donations. You can still bring food to Bridges Headquarters at 120 Morris Ave in Summit, but please restrict this to sustainable lunches which consist of a tuna or chicken salad package (not a can, the foil packet), fruit cup with spoon, individually packaged goldfish or pretzels, a soft granola bar and a water bottle.  Fresh lunches simply don’t work during this crisis. You can also donate toiletry kits. Please hold all other donations, clothing, etc. until the current crisis is over.

I am proud to be the “Bridges Lady” and wear my “Bridges” hat. I will gladly take your sustainable lunch donation over to headquarters if that makes your life easier. I did that for some generous folks today and then promised Bridges’ brave staff that I would write this unusual “love letter,” a letter with no smiling children or cute decorated bags but with all my love for Bridges Outreach and the amazing work they do with our most vulnerable friends and citizens.

Love,

Lucy Malatesta

Bridges Run Leader