Dale Williams came from a nice upper-class family and completed his education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But he eventually found himself alone on a park bench with no home, no family and no money because of his use of drugs.
Now the executive director of Midnight Run, Williams spoke to students on Oct. 10 about his personal experience with homelessness.
“I had alienated every friend that I had,” he said.
At first he did not associate with other homeless people because he was afraid they would think he wasn’t like them because he had an education.
After Williams conquered his fear, he met the volunteers from Midnight Run, a nightly community service project that brings sandwiches, clothing and toiletries to the homeless of New York City. Slowly he began to pick up the pieces of his life. He understood the true meaning of being cold, hungry, dirty, scared and lonely.
“I had people kick me while I was asleep, pour beer on me, even rob me,” he said. “That’s what it’s like to be scared.”
After a little more than two years of being homeless, he has become the main organizer of Midnight Run. In fact, half of the executives are homeless or formerly homeless.
Every day groups go to New York City to give out basic living supplies to impoverished people living on the streets. Volunteers will make three, sometimes four stops in midtown Manhattan to tend to homeless, who are often sleeping on the steps of churches and synagogues.
Rider students and staff make the trip once a month.
Senior Joe Lucchio, a former Midnight Run volunteer, called the experience a “wake-up call to how good you really have it at Rider.”
Contrary to what the name implies, Midnight Run begins earlier in the day by preparing food, clothes and toiletries for the run. This provides the opportunity for those who cannot go on the late-night run to contribute to the process.
That same evening the bus leaves for the city. The group arrives around 10 p.m. in New York City where it meets Williams or another Midnight Run representative who serve as guides. By 10:30 p.m. they are arriving at their first stop, and they finish around 12:30 a.m.
“It’s really cool that the homeless people know the spots,” Lucchio said. “My favorite part about it is to talk to them.”
One goal of the program is to make homeless feel like “they are among friends,” Williams said. He said it means something to them when they hear: “Hi, how are you? We care.”
Midnight Run is more than just community service for those involved. Not only is the program about helping the homeless but it’s also about interacting with them.
“Hearing all their stories is so interesting; none of them are the same,” Lucchio said. “It’s a real gratifying thing to do.”