Ginger and Jeff Worden were having trouble finding someone they could help on a Friday night nine years ago. They had driven to lower Manhattan to distribute homemade dinners to some of the homeless people they passed each day commuting from their home in Summit, N. J., to jobs in the Wall Street area.
But the Street people that seemed to be everywhere in the daytime were nowhere to be found. After driving around for two hours they spotted someone at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. “Would you like a sandwich?” Jeff called to one end of the mound of newspapers. “How about some soup?”
Two hands pulled back the papers, revealing a sleepy and very startled face. “That'd be nice,” said the face. “Which? Sandwich or soup or coffee?” Ginger asked, a little startled herself. “Everything,” he said with a grin, “if that's okay.”
These days, the Wordens have little trouble finding homeless New Yorkers. Every Friday since that first night, Bridges–the organization they founded–has guided hundreds of volunteers to Manhattan's streets with donations of food and clothes. “Bridges literally saved my life,” says Michael, who lived on the streets for three years and now is on the board of directors of the nonprofit, which is based at Christ Church in Summit. “From the beginning the homeless themselves have been involved with Bridges,” Jeff Worden says. “This is a cooperative effort.”
On a damp and chilly autumn Friday night, a caravan of cars, a van full of helpers and a truck packed with supplies drives up to a dimly lit and seemingly abandoned street corner. The few people waiting are suddenly joined by 50 or more others. Workers start passing out food and take orders for clothes, blankets and boxes of toiletries.
The crew includes high school students, who mingle among the homeless exchanging names and listening to stories. One man talks about living under the Brooklyn Bridge for a while. “Just like having a home of our own. But then they started cleaning up the place cemented up the openings, planted trees and bushes, and put park benches around for the office workers to sit on,” he says softly. “It looks nice. They did a good job. Only on weekends are we allowed to sleep under that building. During the week we gotta go somewhere else.”
Francis rolls down the back of the empty truck, banging the lock into place for the drive back to New Jersey. The group knows they haven't solved the homeless problem. But they did do something, made a connection and gave a hand that made someone's day a little better.