By Jen Maldonado
A new policy on the use of university vans, and shortage of support funds have made Midnight Run, a longtime community service program, difficult for students to participate in.
Midnight Run is a New York-based non-profit that enables students to interact with those who are less fortunate. Students distribute food such as peanut butter and jelly or tuna sandwiches, along with hot beverages, clothing, blankets and toiletries, to homeless people in midtown Manhattan.
Gill Chapel on the Lawrenceville campus traditionally oversaw between eight to 12 Midnight Run programs a year to bring food and clothing to people living on the streets of New York.
The cost of these Midnight Runs has increased mostly because of transportation expenses.
“Originally we had use of university-owned vehicles, but over the last two years, those vans have become inaccessible to student groups,” said the Rev. Katie Mulligan, Rider’s Protestant chaplain.
The Athletics Department eliminated its shuttle service “due to mileage and maintenance restrictions of the leased vehicle vans,” according to an email that was sent in May 2012.
Jane Sanchez, coordinator of community service, said, “No access to athletic vans was a blow to a lot of people, especially the Midnight Run.”
In previous years, Campus Ministry gathered the food and clothing through donations and purchases and covered the gas and tolls. Since there was no cost for the driver, who was a faculty or staff member, the out-of-pocket cost for a run often totaled less than $100.
Now, student groups are responsible for collecting food and clothing and for hiring a vehicle that is large enough to accommodate the group members, a professional driver, a faculty adviser and the Midnight Run guide who would join them in Manhattan. Rider has a contract with Stout’s buses that student groups can use, but this costs about $350 to $400 or more. Add to that the cost of food and tips for the driver and the guide, and a group will need to have about $500 for a successful Midnight Run.
Currently, there isn’t any university or Student Government Association (SGA) funding available to support the program. Student groups who are interested in organizing a run are urged to request spontaneous funding.
“Last year, we received funds from the service learning program and spontaneous funding to pay for the Stout’s vans,” Mulligan said. “The rest we relied on donations. This year, Rider Christian Fellowship applied for funding through the student government budget process and we did not receive it. They recommended we apply through spontaneous funding again.”
Although it seems like an uphill battle to gain funding for the ride to the city to serve the homeless, it isn’t impossible, Mulligan stresses. And, she is willing to help.
Students are welcome to contact me and work with me,” Mulligan said.
Those who have participated feel that supplying homeless individuals with basic necessities, especially during these harsh winter months, is a learning experience they will never forget.
“It really makes you appreciate what you have,” said Nate Culp, a senior biology major and vice president of SGA. “We heard some crazy stories, even met a guy who went to college and then wound up homeless. It made me feel really lucky to attend a school and have these basic needs.”
Former students also believe the lasting impact of attending a Midnight Run is something that shouldn’t be disregarded.
“It opened my eyes,” said Rider alumnus Scott Silvester, who participated as a student and a number of times after his graduation in 2007. “The interaction really impacted me and changed how I view the homeless. It’s so important.”
Both Mulligan and Sanchez agree with Silvester and hope that the funding issues and transportation hassle won’t discourage student groups from getting involved.
“I think a lot of people love the trip and its impact on student growth,” Mulligan said.
“Unfortunately, those aren’t the same people that make those funding decisions.”
Sanchez echoed Mulligan’s sentiments.
“It becomes tough,” Sanchez said. “We have to put the students into the community. They get a different feel when they’re out in the community.”
Although, Midnight Run is suspended, Rider is still continuing to work with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.
Don Brown, retired director of Multicultural Affairs who frequently participated in Midnight Run, said he is disappointed that the program’s importance on campus has diminished.
“It’s confirmation of your classroom experience through real-life exposure,” said Brown, who still teaches Race, Class and Gender as an adjunct. “It converts the homeless from statistics to real people. With the homeless numbers ever rising, this is not the time to cut Midnight Run. It’s like cutting food stamps in a recession.”
Additional reporting by Kevin Whitehead