We had an early start to our Sunday, as all of us, bleary-eyed and sleepy, gathered together at Ethical Culture to begin the annual ECFS Breakfast Run. The day began with an orientation led by Win Sheffield, a Midnight Run volunteer who has been with the organization and accompanied ECFS students on this trip for many years.
The Midnight Run project supports those affected by the numerous problems ingrained in the New York City shelter system. These problems ultimately prevent many people from being able to leave the streets. Contrary to the popular belief that shelters are ‘safe havens’ for those in need to help get them back on their feet, New York City shelters are paradoxically spaces that can be quite dangerous, sometimes even life-threatening for the homeless.
The Breakfast Run project, led by the Midnight Run organization, has been an annual tradition for students in Introduction to Community Service and Community Service Advisory Board-In Training at ECFS.
Following in the footsteps of those before us, we loaded the buses, made sure all the items and provisions were organized neatly, and sped off towards the predetermined site. As the bus neared the site, looking out to the right, students could see the crowd of people already gathered to receive us. Upon arrival, we set up food tables, transformed the bus into a toiletries and clothing station, and hung welcome posters.
A sense of excitement and, truthfully, some nervousness, seeped into the air as both sophomores and freshmen prepared to serve the guests waiting in line. As Alexa P. stated, “Going into this, there’s a certain stigma around homeless people where they can be rowdy or rude, but that’s not the case at all.” Her words rang true as the slight tension from the students almost immediately drained away once they realized the attendees were the complete opposite: gracious, friendly, and polite.
A group of students reflected back upon a conversation about professional basketball with two of the gentlemen they served. Thomas G. found himself both engaged by their charismatic personalities and impressed by their knowledge of the current standings. Going into this, few students would have thought that the homeless would spend time following sports teams. Many found themselves discovering afterwards that the people they served were actually more similar to them than they thought. As is the case with all stereotypes, beliefs like those associated with homeless people can only be broken upon interaction.
It brought smiles to everyone’s faces to witness guests excited about the food or toiletries bags we had packed for them. Isa, a Midnight Run Board Member, found a way to capture the group dynamic experienced by all of us. “You folks worked as a unit with each individual bringing their own innate abilities to light,” he said. “When we all help one another out, everybody wins.”
Win Sheffield later remarked that he was impressed by the level of planning and organization from ECFS students. “There is nothing like effective leadership with its eyes on the goal to make things go smoothly,” he said. “Having everything in place when you arrived, like the tents, also made things go super smoothly. It was a privilege to be involved, as ever.”
Dale, the Executive Director of Midnight Run, said that the organization has “appreciated the efforts of the students and staff of Fieldston for more than 20 years now, giving their friendship as well as supplies to our friends in need.”
The event didn’t just benefit those without a place to live – it truly helped ECFS students to break the false assumptions that we unconsciously create through media or the environment around us. Add that onto the fact that we attend a privileged school like ECFS, and it becomes of the utmost importance that we challenge the preconceptions we have surrounding groups of people the majority of us do not normally interact with.
We served over 70 people without homes during the Sunday event. The Main Chance Shelter and the Women's Shelter at the NY Society for Ethical Culture received the extra donated items. In addition, the generous cash donations received during the drive will be forwarded to the Midnight Run organization.
The words of student Laura G. struck home for many Sunday afternoon, as she said, “I found it very gratifying putting all of the work into setting things up and serving the food to people. It was also a great experience to be able to interact with homeless people in a way that I am not usually able to.”
As any student who attended both this year and last year will tell you, very few experiences are as impactful as the Breakfast Run.