Students bring heart to Tompkins Square Park


For over 20 years, Sacred Heart Greenwich’s Upper School students have dashed out to Tompkins Square Park in New York City to volunteer in breakfast runs, where they offer people supplies and food. The breakfast run experience has encouraged a commitment to social justice from Sacred Heart students of all grades, as the run’s objective reinforces Sacred Heart’s emphasis on a social awareness which impels to meaningful action.

In preparation for the runs, Upper and Middle School students volunteer to sort donated clothes and prepare coffee, hot chocolate, and breakfast foods. On the day of the run, a team of eight Upper School girls departs from Sacred Heart at 8 a.m., arriving at the outskirts of the park. Together, the volunteers unload the bus and set up tables to distribute food, toiletries, and clothing to the homeless.

Jackie Koletas ’18, Elizabeth Asprinio ’19, and Caleigh Pope ’18 set up shoes and clothes to hand out to the homeless. Courtesy of Laura Moore ’19

Upper School Theology Teacher and Director of Social Justice and Service Mrs. Kerry Bader has coordinated the breakfast runs for six years, noticing throughout the years an increased student interest in volunteering for the runs.

“The breakfast runs fill-up quickly because the girls see the breakfast runs as an opportunity to meet people and help them in a way that is sincere and allows real interactions with others,” Mrs. Bader said.

Mrs. Bader’s junior year Ethics, Morality, and Social Justice class inspires students to actively engage themselves in community service through both Sacred Heart programs and service initiatives outside of school. Junior Gabby Davitch has volunteered on the runs since her freshman year, becoming increasingly motivated to seize every opportunity to get involved.

“Junior year has particularly sparked my involvement in the breakfast runs after discussing the importance of the active virtue of hope in Mrs. Bader’s ethics class,” Gabby said. “The virtue of hope calls us to actively make a positive change in our communities and in the world. This motivates me to act upon our discussions about the needy and vulnerable in our society.”

Gabby believes that Sacred Heart teaches students to value community service and the relationships they make through service work. This sense of communal awareness makes students eager to take advantage of opportunities such as the breakfast runs.

“Sacred Heart’s emphasis on service prepares me to serve more readily and meaningfully by emphasizing how vital it is to help others, rather than just [doing] service to check off the required hours,” Gabby said.

Sacred Heart Facilities Coordinator Mr. Robert Allison has been an active volunteer and the primary organizer of the breakfast runs for 18 years. Through his years of experience, he has seen how Sacred Heart students, in particular, are able to connect with the people population they encounter at Tompkins Square Park.

“The girls surprise me with the things they can do,” Mr. Allison said. “They have a great ability to talk and assist the people when they need something. They make them coffee and offer them food, and then stay along with them to give them socks and clothes, showing genuine care the whole time.”

Additionally, Mr. Allison believes that the breakfast runs shape the students’ views of the overall homeless population.

“All of the girls probably go to the city, and as they walk around, see the homeless just sitting around,” Mr. Allison said. “Through the runs, they see who they really are. They have real conversations with them, and they see that they’re normal people.”

Volunteers help distribute clothes to the homeless at Tompkins Square Park. Courtesy of Laura Moore ’19

After volunteering on many breakfast runs over the past three years,

Gabby believes her experience has changed her view of the homeless. She noted how this type of direct volunteering helps to counteract the stigma that homeless people often face.

“My experience with the breakfast runs have provided me with the unique opportunity to communicate and have friendly interactions with the homeless people of New York City that I would typically just pass by on the sidewalk,” Gabby said. “I value these conversations because they enrich my perspective of the homeless population by highlighting how their circumstances do not reflect who they are as people.”

In addition, the breakfast runs bring all grade levels together. The Lower School collects toiletries and clothes, the Middle and Upper School work together to organize the runs, and Upper School students travel to the city and distribute the items.

“One of my favorite things about the breakfast runs is the involvement of the whole Sacred Heart community,” Mr. Allison said. “I love this because I work with the whole school, and it’s great to see everybody coming together.”

Students who participate in breakfast runs are often readily able to communicate with the people they meet, due to Sacred Heart’s variety of language classes, including Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, and French. These skills enhance the success of the group on the runs because students can break through language barriers, which can be common in the diverse area surrounding Tompkins Square Park.

One Sunday, the breakfast run team went to mass near the park before they began working. They went to a Chinese mass, Mr. Allison explained, and a student who takes Chinese did a reading for everyone.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” Mr. Allison said. “We participated with them, holding each other’s hands, reciting the ‘Our Father,’ which really blew me away.”

Featured Image by Karina Badey ’19