To the Editor:

Dear Pack 6, Scout Troops 28, 280, Venture Crew 20, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and CHS Volunteers:

Thank you for coming together on a very successful Bridges Outreach run to Newark. A lot of work goes into a run. It starts with asking for food donations, enough to make 250 brown bag lunches. On Friday, February 21, Cub Scout Pack 6 members gathered at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Chatham with gifts of turkey, bread, cheese sticks, fruit and granola bars. Troop 28, 280 and Venture Crew 20 families also helped with donations.

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The younger children brought their enthusiasm, energy and love, especially when it came to decorating the lunch bags with encouraging words and cheerful pictures. The adults and older scouts were invaluable, capable assistants to the Cubs. It never ceases to amaze that this much work, 250 lunches, can be put together in under an hour. Good work everyone! The following morning volunteers arrived at Bridges Outreach headquarters in Summit, NJ. Bridges Outreach is an organization that seeks to “bridge” the gap between the housed and the homeless through direct outreach, like these runs to Newark, Irvington and New York but also through casework, especially in Newark where Bridges volunteers and staff try to get to the root of homelessness, helping people connect with services that help them find a job and a place to live.

Our volunteers, a combination of Scouts, Chatham High School students, and adults caravanned behind Bridges’ Dave Dawson and the bright yellow truck to a sidewalk in Newark where we set up tables to distribute food and clothing and serve our friends with soup and hot cocoa as they patiently waited on line. We saw George, who is blind and comes to this stop every week. Bridges’ core volunteer Debbie guided George through the line while they talked about the presidential election. Rodney and Jeffrey joked and laughed with volunteers, pretending to cut the line, but never really doing that, just having fun on this brisk sunny day. Zenaya, a high school senior, was waiting on line with her mother. They asked if Zenaya could volunteer for Bridges and earn community service hours for graduation.

This made me think. If my family didn’t have a home and didn’t have enough to eat, would I be thinking about volunteering? I can’t answer that but it was just another example of how our homeless friends are so much more like us than they are different. Many of our CHS volunteers come with their service hour paperwork too, just like Zenaya! This day Bridges supplied us with donated jeans to distribute. Troop 28’s Liam and Adam stood out in this department. Liam complimented folks on their choices, “They’re you, they’re you!” and Adam could guess people’s sizes with one look. The adult volunteers were impressed! There is much joy serving and hanging out with our friends but sometimes we see something that reminds us how tough it is to be homeless.

As we were packing up the truck for our next stop there was a woman who received donations but had no way to carry them and her other belongings because she is truly homeless, no shelter or anywhere to go. We asked every volunteer to check their cars for a larger bag for her but came up empty. I don’t know how she managed and I don’t know the end of her story. Our second stop was at a shelter that houses 300 homeless men and women. We had to be buzzed into the gate there. It’s good that our friends have a safe place to stay but it’s not like living at home. There are many restrictions. Food can’t be brought upstairs to the rooms to prevent mice and insects coming so all of our lunches had to be eaten picnic-style in the shelter’s cafeteria.

I did get to ask some friends about the Cub Scouts’ sandwiches. They said they were delicious. Here we met Raymond, a tailor for 30 years, was going to alter the donated jeans to fit his wife perfectly. CHS volunteer Sam met two ladies who looked so much alike he guessed they were twins. No, they weren’t twins, but they said that people ask them all the time. “That’s all right, “Sam said. “I am a twin and nobody thinks we look alike!” Tall, handsome Scott came into the room, saw core volunteer Debbie and bear-hugged her, lifting her off her feet. Debbie, who volunteers in Newark almost weekly, knows many of our homeless friends by name.

Scott and I talked about college football. I am a Navy fan, but he laughed saying, “They’re never going to beat LSU or Alabama.” I said “Yes, but who would you want in a foxhole with you, when you’re really in trouble?” Scott’s answer, “Debbie!” Wow, right? This is Bridges Outreach: feeding the homeless, trying to end homelessness, and doing all of this with love and dignity; being a presence that brings comfort and support to people who are having a really tough time. Cub Scouts, Scouts and Venture Crew, CHS Volunteers, adult supporters, Dave and Debbie, we are Bridges Outreach, each and every one of us is important and necessary to a run.

Thank you!

Love, Lucy Malatesta Bridges Outreach Run Leader