Midnight Run Program: Students, Employees Experience “a St. Vincent Moment”
“The first time, you don’t know what to expect,” said Jennie Lynn Martino ’19SRM, an actuarial science major at St. John’s. “Yes, you’re there to hand out food, coffee, clothes, but it’s more than that. You’re there to talk—to offer friendship. When you do, you begin to see the homeless more clearly, without the unfair stigma our society places on them.”
Martino, a Campus Ministry Student Assistant (CMSA), is only in the second semester of her freshman year. Yet she has become a veteran of the Midnight Run program, one of the most popular service activities at St. John’s. She is among hundreds of students who participate in the initiative every academic year, setting out in University vans to distribute sandwiches, soup, coffee, toiletries, and clothing to homeless people throughout Manhattan.
“There are a lot of reasons why Midnight Run is so popular,” said Angela Seegel ’98Ed, ’04GEd, Director of Vincentian Service at St. John’s. “The main one, I think, is the unexpected experience it gives people with those in need. It’s a real Vincentian experience, a dynamic opportunity to roll up our sleeves and serve, the way Vincent did.”
Seegel was a Campus Minister when she introduced the Midnight Run program to St. John’s in 2003.
Since then, the initiative has grown significantly. At the Queens campus, 30 to 40 students participate each month. On the Staten Island campus, as many as 20 students do. Beginning in early evening, the students organize food and clothing for the run. Then they travel in University vans to preselected locations in Manhattan. The trips are a partnership with the Midnight Run organization, which coordinates similar efforts with churches, colleges, and businesses throughout the metropolitan area.
“One thing I’ve gained is perspective,” said Joseph Barry ’16CPS, a homeland security major and Catholic Scholar. “You see the common humanity you share with people who are in need—it’s a St. Vincent moment, where opening your eyes and heart can change your life.”
The program’s popularity has spread to administrators, faculty, and staff at St. John’s. As part of the Vincentian Mission Certificate (VMC) Program, a 16-month professional development course for full-time employees, participants fulfill 50 hours of service. Many choose to participate in Midnight Run. “Direct interaction is one objective of Vincentian service,” said Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission, who often accompanies participants. “We don’t merely distribute food—we engage people in conversation, person to person.”
Stephanie Bakirtzis, a Project Manager in the Office of Marketing and Communications, graduated from VMC in 2015. She helped raise a record-breaking $8,500 to support the program and created toiletry kits that are distributed along with food and clothes. “It can be an intense experience, because it shatters any preconceptions you may have about the homeless,” she said. “You realize that this can happen to anyone.”