NEW HAVEN – They hide in the steel-and-concrete underbellies of bridges. They hunker under stairways in tumbledown buildings. They shiver in shadowed alleyways. And for 24 years, Michael Guidone and his band of helpers have been finding them, feeding them, clothing them, helping them come back to some better kind of life.
In 1989, Mr. Guidone started what later became known as the Midnight Sandwich Run, an attempt to locate and feed homeless people in the New Haven area. The effort found traction, and it is now financed in part by donations to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal through St. Elizabeth Parish in Branford, which uses an allotment of appeal money under the Vicariate Outreach Program.
"The way it started was, a friend of mine, whose name was Ralph Dykes, we were talking one night and he and a couple other people were wondering what the figure was, how many homeless people there are in New Haven or New Haven County," Mr. Guidone said. The next Wednesday night, they packed food, coffee and clothing in a car and drove to York Street, near Toad’s Place, in New Haven.
"We went into alleyways and abandoned buildings and under staircases and stuff like that, looking for homeless people and asking if they wanted something to eat," he said. They found so many homeless people that they took out an ad in the newspaper requesting donations of clothing.
"We [received] so many clothes that we couldn’t give them away fast enough, so we had to have the Salvation Army come in with trucks. We had hundreds and hundreds of 60-gallon trash bags filled with clothes," he said.
Mr. Dykes has since died, but not before he helped Mr. Guidone find a name for his mission. "He had been in real estate and had an office in New York and had heard of the Midnight Run, which is in Manhattan," Mr. Guidone said. Manhattan’s Midnight Run has a similar mission but on a larger scale.
Mr. Guidone’s Midnight Sandwich Run starts well before midnight, though, at about 8 p.m. several nights a week. And they have learned to be careful about where to look for the people they serve.
"Shortly after we started the thing, one of the homeless people came up to me and he said, ‘Can I give you some advice?’" Mr. Guidone said. "He said, ‘Don’t go to abandoned buildings and underneath stairwells and wherever these people are sleeping, because if you shake them and wake them up, you’re liable to get shot, because they’re carrying guns. So let me know where you’re going to be, what time you want to be there, and I will make sure that everybody knows that you’re going to be there.’ And I said, ‘My Lord, you just saved my life!’"
The Midnight Sandwich Run gets delivery help from many quarters, including from several churches and from students at the University of New Haven, Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University, he said.
Amazingly, Mr. Guidone gets his share of criticism, as well. "People say, ‘What do you feed those bums for?’ Ambulance drivers say, ‘You feed them and keep them healthy, and we have to scrape them off the streets.’ I reminded him, ‘Wait till you get in front of your maker. He’ll say, "Where were you?"’"
He hears no criticism from the people he helps, though. "They call us the angels of the night," he said.
Ann Murray, secretary and business manager at St. Elizabeth Parish, said that once a month, volunteers at the parish make 75 lunch bags for distribution by the Midnight Sandwich Run.
"We do a sandwich with several cold cuts and cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, a bag of chips, a drink, cookies, candy and fresh fruit," she said. "We fill that and a gentleman comes here and he brings it down to the New Haven Green and hands them out there, and what is left over, if any is left over, he brings to the Immanuel Baptist Shelter on Grand Avenue."
Along with the sandwiches, the parish provides clothing, towels and personal hygiene products, she added.
The Midnight Sandwich Run is one of about 250 local charities served through the Vicariate Outreach Program of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. In 2012, the VOP provided $724,700 in financial aid to neighborhood charities like soup kitchens, homeless shelters, fuel banks, counseling programs and assistance programs for immigrants, children and the elderly. In 2013, about 9 percent of appeal money is earmarked for parish-based charities.
Because that money is available, every third Monday of the month at 3:45 p.m., a volunteer from the Midnight Sandwich Run drives up to St. Elizabeth Parish. He picks up bags of food, clothing and personal items. Homeless people in New Haven know he’s coming, Mrs. Murray said. "They just wait for him. They’re so excited to see him. He said they are actually in tears when they see him coming."