Bridges, overpasses, jug handles and detours
Years ago, when my children were in preschool, I volunteered at Bridges and had always believed in their mission.
About two years ago I saw a social media post from my old friend Rich. He had been named the new Executive Director of Bridges Outreach.
I immediately sent Rich a text: Congratulations! Do you need help?
His reply: Yes, when can you come in?
Today, If you call our Summit office, I’m the person who usually answers the phone. If you send an email to info@; help@ or rwood@ bridgesoutreach, I try to answer your questions or forward it to someone who can. If you follow our posts on Instagram or Facebook, or receive our emails, it’s usually me that posted or emailed. If you have attended one of our events, I was one of the staff running behind the scenes.
Before Bridges, I spent time in corporate PR, policy work in Washington D.C., and 10 years at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in the volunteer department and managing events.
‘Office Manager’ was not yet in my skill set, but for the past two years, I’ve been figuring it out. It’s a unique position to be in. The calls and requests can range from excited volunteers who have amazing stories to share, to administrative support for our staff and board, to directing companies looking for corporate volunteer opportunities, to helping victims of domestic violence that have no ID and nowhere to go.
Our Summit office has three full-time employees, two part-time, and four outreach Run coordinators. We depend on hundreds of volunteers every month to work with our Run coordinators and fulfill our mission to deliver basic necessities to people experiencing homelessness in Summit, Newark, Irvington and Manhattan. In our Newark office we have a team of four including case managers that connect clients to services.
Earlier this year, when I felt like I finally had a handle on this job, the world changed.
The first week of March my focus was on logistics and invitations for our upcoming spring fundraiser, Bridgefest, scheduled for early May. All the details were coming together for an epic rooftop party with tequila tastings, signature cocktails, Mexican beer, amazing food, and fun music from a local band. On March 9th we had a site walk through, the permits were almost in place, the invitations were starting to go out, and we were finalizing the menus.
By March 11th our focus had started to shift to how we would deal with a new infectious virus that had made its way to America. Out of an abundance of caution, Bridgefest was cancelled. That week the volunteers also started to cancel. One by one the schools, churches, synagogues, and groups of friends, all very understandably called to say, “We are so sorry, but we will not be on the Run this weekend”.
By March 16th schools were closed, and we cancelled all remaining volunteer events and visits. Our Newark staff shifted from their role as case managers to become street outreach teams trying to get people off the streets for their own safety and to help slow the spread of the virus. The shelter options for clients were not ideal. Fortunately, a hotel solution was worked out, but that story is best told by one of our amazing outreach staff.
During all this I started working the outreach Runs on Saturdays and Sundays to fill in for the volunteers. We streamlined the Run process: no soup or hot chocolate and limited engagements with clients. This new posture is very much against the spirit of everything a Bridges Run has been, but for now, it’s the safest approach. While I’m not a nurse or a doctor, I feel this is how I can contribute.
We do have a doctor on our board; he’s a medical director at a nursing facility. I can’t imagine the pressure and stress he faces every minute. We also have a hospital social worker on our board who spends her days in the oncology unit at a local hospital, and on her days off she checks in on us and brings donations that she has collected for us. These are the front-line heroes, as are grocery store, gas station, restaurant, warehouse, Post Office, UPS, FedEx, Instacart, public transportation workers, and our street outreach teams.
As I fill in for our volunteers who I know wish they could be here, I worry. I worry about the growing line of people waiting for us in Newark and Irvington every weekend. I worry about the clients in Manhattan that we can’t serve right now. I worry about the children that rely on school meals that do not have access or transportation to school to get those meals.
I also worry about my 7th and 8th graders and wish I was home with them, but know I am helping our staff to help people who are not as lucky. And lastly, even though I have a mask and gloves, I worry what happens if I bring the virus home. Thank you for listening, thank you for all of the support and kind words you have shown Bridges.
Please stay safe, stay home if you can.