A late-night trip into Manhattan provided a “reality check” — and a mitzva opportunity — for members of the youth group at Temple Beth Miriam in Elberon.
The SALTY (Shore Area Long Branch Temple Youth) group of 20 teens, along with 10 adults, traveled in two buses Jan. 23 to deliver food, clothes, and shoes to the homeless on their second annual Midnight Run.
They were accompanied by members of the temple’s brotherhood, who helped distribute the items in front of Penn Station and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
“The kids started complaining they’re cold, which was a real reality check,” said synagogue youth director Dee Ross. “Here we were, able to get back on our cozy bus at 2 a.m., bringing us back to our cozy beds in New Jersey. That really grounded our students. It was refreshing for them to look at the situation like that.”
Midnight Run, based in Dobbs Ferry, NY, was founded in 1984. With the help of volunteers from churches and synagogues, the organization conducts more than 900 relief missions each year.
Having learned from last year’s trip with Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, the youth group solicited donations for needed items. One of the largest gifts came from the Israeli company Yaleet, which donated five “huge” boxes of Naot shoes, which retail for $150 a pair; UPS donated the shipping costs. Belmonte’s Ristorante in Asbury Park and Baker Boys bakery in Ocean Grove donated enough food to assemble 150 packages.
In addition, the group brought with them hundreds of coats and pants, 100 packages of socks and underwear, and hygiene packages to distribute and gave out servings of hot chocolate and soup.
Shaari Emeth, which has been conducting such trips with its youth group for about 10 years, held its Midnight Run Jan. 30, giving out scarves, toiletries, and dinners, said its youth director, Jayne Lieberman. Any remaining food or clothing was to be donated to a homeless shelter in Manhattan by YOSHE (Youth of Temple Shaari Emeth) members.
“Within our National Federation of Temple Youth region, we pioneered this for a lot of temples,” said Lieberman. “We helped Beth Miriam launch its own Midnight Run last year, and we were happy to do so.”
Some Beth Miriam teens served as “personal shoppers” at each location, taking clothing and size requests. “We gave people choices such as whether they wanted a blue or black coat and then had them try it on,” said Ross. “The homeless were actually lined up waiting for us on our second stop at Penn Station.”
Haley Peckman of Wall, the 15-year-old chair of Midnight Run and SALTY’s social action vice president, coordinated the event.
Students began their run with Havdala at the temple before making sandwiches and boarding the bus at 9:30 p.m., Haley said. Their leftover items were donated to The Center in Asbury Park, an organization that serves AIDS victims.
Haley described the overall experience as “really unique and rewarding” but one incident really drove home the significance of the group’s efforts. A man came asking for gloves, but there were none left, so Haley’s father, Steve, took off his own gloves and gave them to him.
“After my dad gave him the gloves, the man just fell to his knees and thanked him — he was so grateful,” Haley said. “You could really see that one small thing can be so meaningful and change things for someone.”