It was a crisp 35 degrees at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 9, on the west side of Manhattan, when the truck slowed to a stop in front of a group of people standing outside on a street corner.

All of them are homeless — and were expecting the truck.

The truck was driven by Darien resident Ben Geeding — minister of youth and pastoral care at the First Congregational Church of Darien — and his wife Christine Geeding, the church’s director of Christian education.

The Geedings got out of their truck and, keeping a safe distance while wearing a mask and gloves, placed 50 bags filled with breakfast food, as well as clothing essentials and toiletries, on a table that had been set up.

“As soon as we placed a bag on the table, it was snapped up gladly and with a lot of ‘thank you,’ ‘This is exactly what I needed’ and ‘God Bless you,’ Christine said. “We could barely keep up.”

“Some people were crying,” she added.

The Geedings spoke to the group for about 30 minutes before getting back into their truck and heading home.

Midnight Run

The Geedings delivered the items as part of a nonprofit organization called Midnight Run.

According to its website, Midnightrun.org, Midnight Run coordinates over 1,000 relief missions per year, in which volunteers from churches, synagogues, schools and other civic groups distribute food, clothing, blankets and personal care items to the homeless poor on the streets of New York City. The late-night relief efforts create a forum for trust, sharing, understanding and affection. That human exchange, rather than the exchange of goods, is the essence of the Midnight Run mission.

The First Congregational Church in Darien has been involved with Midnight Run for about 10 years.

The collection

In prior years, the church has collected donations for the Midnight Run at its Sunday church services.

However, since the church building has been closed due to the pandemic, the Geedings decided upon an alternative option — to collect monetary donations virtually.

There was a sign-up page on the church’s website for people to contribute what they felt most comfortable, according to Christine.

“It all happened very fast,” Christine said. “We started collecting funds in March but we didn’t start collecting items until about two weeks ago.”

“Many families couldn’t get to the grocery store, so my husband and I took the donations — just over $1,000 — and the two of us went to Costco and purchased the items.

While the Midnight Run organization is still offering both evening and morning runs, the church decided to organize a breakfast run this year “because we thought it might be lower risk,” Christine said.

They received a donation of paper bags from Trader Joe's in Darien, to pack the donations in.

Participating families brought their donations to the Dream Center, which is the youth meeting room across the street from the church.

“We had 22 families of the church contribute,” she said.

In addition, several of the church’s committees also got involved in the Midnight Run effort.

“My husband Ben and I, with help from the chairman of the Board of Christian Education Heather Walsh and two of her children, Tommy, grade 5, and Katie, grade 7, packed the bags,” she said.

Breakfast included muffins, water and fruit, as well as bread that was baked by a church member.

The delivery

When the Geedings made their delivery, church minister Dale Rosenberger and his wife donated their truck. The Geedings packed it up with the bags, and headed off on the hour-long drive into Manhattan.

Midnight Run sets up meeting points in New York City where homeless people reside. Through a liaison, the deliverers know roughly how many people will be at the stop they’re going to.

The individual they met at the location is a liaison in the homeless community. The liaisons are also homeless. All of them have built a relationship with Dale Williams, who is executive director of the Midnight Run.

Williams, who lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., has managed the operations of Midnight Run since 1991. He was homeless himself in New York City between 1987 and 1990.

“The Midnight Run organization drop-off locations are fluid,” Christine said. “They change, depending upon the homeless individuals the organization is in contact with each year.”

On the day of the delivery, the liaisons gather their homeless friends and acquaintances from nearby streets to receive the items.

Midnight Run is running about 30 different runs this month alone, according to Christine.

Giving

During the pandemic, the First Congregational Church has been very active in making sure its members have a connection with their church community, according to Christine.

“We are always looking for specific needs that we can meet at the church. A good way to do that this year was to scale down the Midnight Run, get a little bit creative, and allow people to still feel like they can make a difference,” she said. “We wanted to feel some sort of normalcy in our regular pattern of outreach.”

Christine continued, “My heart was reaching out to the homeless people who were cold and who do not have the normal resources they do when there is no virus,” she said, adding the homeless can’t go to the usual places to charge their cell phone, use the computers at local libraries, or use the restroom at this time.

Going forward, the church is considering organizing two Midnight Runs runs a year, to “jump-start our outreach,” Christine said — one in the spring and one in the fall.

Walsh said one aspect the Midnight Run she has always loved is that it’s “an all-church effort.”

“And even now, when we can’t all be together to make the sandwiches and pack the bags, so many members of the congregation still found a way to help and donate what they could,” Walsh added.

Ben said there “aren’t words” to capture the “enormity of need present in a place like New York City.”

“One candle in the dark, I would explain it that way,” Ben said. “Sometimes, all you need to break the darkness is one source of light because it spreads throughout the darkness. So, what we did through our presence, through having conversations, through giving out bags, will spread throughout that community in the name of our church and the greater church.”

sfox@darientimes.com