SUMMIT, NJ – Bridges Outreach this year commemorates a quarter-century of providing food and comfort to the homeless in urban areas of New Jersey and New York.
But the impetus for Bridges Outreach began in the suburban home of a Summit couple, Geoff and Ginger Worden, in 1988. The Wordens were inspired to load up their car with coffee, soup and sandwiches and set out for Brooklyn to provide some nourishment and attention for the homeless in the city. They arrived at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge with their care package — prompting the name, “Bridges Outreach” — and a legacy was born.
From that point on, the Wordens made their treks to the city a regular part of their schedule, and homeless citizens in New York City came to look forward to and expect their visits. Now, Bridges Outreach, which has swelled to a group of 1,500 or so volunteers and more than 70 groups, makes regularly scheduled weekly runs to provide food to homeless people in New York, Newark and Irvington.
“I grew up in Summit and went through the Summit Public School system. I was lucky to go on Bridges' first run into Newark, which is now in the weekly rotation,” said Amanda Block, a board member of Bridges Outreach. “Inspired in part by my experiences with Bridges, I became an advocate for the homeless 10 years ago. Now a Summit resident once again, I sit on the board of Bridges. It is my delight and honor to witness my own generation moved to support Bridges because of their experience as high school volunteers.”
From the Wordens’ home, Bridges Outreach eventually moved its headquarters to Christ Church in Summit, and Bridges Outreach is currently housed in Oakes Memorial Center.
“Once Bridges support branched out beyond the Wordens, Summit friends and neighbors were the ones to do the outreach runs,” Block said. “Summit schools, places of worship and community service organizations have enlivened and grown the outreach. Thanks to the location of Oakes Memorial, and its proximity to those in need and the generosity of our local donors, Bridges can now serve Summit's underserved on Fridays with food, clothing and other basic necessities.”
Over the years, the organization has grown steadily, adding more runs and stop locations along with way. In 1996, Bridges added Newark to its weekly run schedule. In 2002, Irvington was added.
“This generation coming up in high school now has taken good advantage of their affiliation with Bridges to create the Teens Tackle Homelessness Conference,” Block said. “Entirely organized by local high school students, the conference is an opportunity for teens to discuss poverty and interface with the formerly homeless. This year, the conference took place at Kent Place School in February with a record attendance rate of 140 teens.”
Two years ago, Bridges launched the Coalition of Services for the homeless and indigent of Newark. More than 20 agencies convene on a monthly basis, offering on-site medical exams and referral for treatment, testing for HIV and screening for diabetes and high blood pressure. Experienced outreach and social workers set individuals up with the specific services they need to make the transition away from the streets, including legal services; drug treatment; psychiatric, medical, and family services; and temporary and transitional shelters with the ultimate goal of permanent housing.
“Bridges's history has always been connected to Summit,” Block said. “Summit's generosity and enthusiasm to serve are as much a part of Bridges as its 25-year history of outreach runs.”