IRVINGTON, NJ - Robotics teams from Chatham and Columbia High School in Maplewood came together with Stanley Church members and elementary school students to pull together a unique Bridges Outreach run to feed and offer fellowship to homeless friends in Irvington.

Friendly rivals in New Jersey’s First Tech Challenge robotics competition, Fear the Gear and the Cougar Cubs donated food and met at Stanley Congregational Church in Chatham this Saturday to make lunches. Stanley’s youth and pancake crew also raised money to purchase and put together 50 toiletry kits.

More lunches were made by kindergartners from Summit’s Central Presbyterian Church and many bags were lovingly decorated by more kindergartners and art students from Chatham’s Washington Avenue School.

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On Sunday, robotics’ team members and church youth met at Bridges headquarters in Summit and followed the iconic yellow truck to Civic Square in Irvington. Bridges Outreach Coordinator Antoine told the volunteers how to set up, three tables for the food, toiletries and t-shirts to give to homeless friends and an extra table for the robotics’ demonstration.

Church volunteers got busy serving chicken noodle soup and lemonade to the 70 people who had gathered looking for help. Stanley’s new Pastor, Bernd Weishaupt, was part of the crew. He marveled at Bridges Outreach’s consistency, coming to the same place at the same time each week, bringing comfort to people who have so little and need so much. The robots were positioned near the end of the line. The people waiting were very curious about the robots and asked a lot of questions about how they were programmed, what could the robots do, what were the competitions like?

Columbia brought an extra robot that flies paper airplanes. One woman enjoyed folding her own airplane and watching it shoot out from the robot. Another man took a picture with his cell phone. It was definitely a fun way to pass the time while they waited on line and kids enjoyed showing off and sharing their “bots.” One man, Nico, asked if Fear the Gear had won the robotics competition.

The answer to that was “no, the team had a pretty tough year, but they learned how to fail and not quit, to pick up the pieces and try again.” Nico expressed that that certainly mirrored some of the tougher times in his life and that it was an important lesson. He said that working through setbacks makes you come back stronger. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes two robotics’ teams, a church youth group, and a lot of small children with big hearts and crayons to love their neighbors in this creative way.

Bridges Outreach has a more than 25 year history of bringing the housed and homeless together. They stress the importance of not only reaching out to homeless friends with food and necessities but also with friendship, respect, and love. This philosophy made them very open to the new idea of a combined Bridges run and robotics demonstration last year and this is fast becoming an annual tradition. Both teams have pledged to continue their outreach partnership in addition to their friendly competition.