Rutgers students collect books, blankets, stuffed animals for children in homeless shelters
Rutgers Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships held "Project Night Night" Wednesday, an event where students stuffed bags with various items to support children in homeless shelters.
The event was sponsored in part by the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD). They purchased a number of stuffed animals and coordinated delivery to the homeless shelters in the area.
The yearly collection looks to gather blankets, books and stuffed animals for the children, and with help from student volunteers, they then package the items in Night Night bags to distribute among different shelters, according to their site.
Palak Shah, a Rutgers Business School senior, said the event was first brought to the organization through a student who stumbled across the idea online and felt it needed attention. The department was equally excited about the cause and began "Project Night Night" in 2016.
The nationwide project supplies over 25,000 children across the country with Night Night packages each time they are admitted into a shelter, Palak said. Many of these children are constantly in between homes and this provides them with a keepsake throughout the process.
“I know as a child I always had a blanket that I took everywhere I went, it was kind of a safety net and I think that these children in homeless shelters especially need it more than anything. Because they don’t have a stable house it’s something they can take with them as a part of them,” she said.
Through the "Project Night Night" website, donors can select between shelters in their area or anywhere across the country to donate their goods, Palak said. Off-Campus and Community Partnerships opts to keep donations in the New Brunswick area as a way to give back to the community.
The organization has chosen Friends in Service to Humanity (FISH), Ozanam Family Shelter, Women Aware and Dina’s Dwellings as the four primary shelters they ship Night Night bags to within the New Brunswick and Piscataway area, she said.
Any business or organization looking to take part in "Project Night Night" can do so by registering through the main site. Here organizations can receive a shipment of Night Night bags that comes with the company’s logo ready to ship out to locations across the country, Palak said.
Student feedback for these events has been great, she said. During a blanket making event the organization held earlier this year, they nearly doubled their expected numbers as a result of a high student turnout.
Since then, the organization has expanded its reach and distributed collection bins to student centers across campus for students and faculty to donate gently-used books, blankets and stuffed animals even if they cannot make the bagging event, Palak said.
Shannon Sy, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and event intern, said there is a lot of student involvement because of advertisements on social media and weekly LISTSERV postings. Watching donations come in waves serves as motivation for students to stay involved and keep up with the latest events.
By sending their information through LISTSERV the group has managed to contact different local businesses and organizations willing to get involved and slowly help the project gain momentum, Sy said.
“Something students can expect when coming here is meeting different people that share the same passion as them, to give back and really do something for the community. I think the people you met here are here for a reason, whatever that is the purpose of the event is to give back,” she said.
Nick Cahill, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he first got involved with the event last fall through Give Where You Live, an organization working in conjunction with Community Partners to provide opportunities for semester-long service commitments.
“This was actually the event l hosted with my initiate class when I was rushing Phi Sigma Pi. A lot of the events we do as a fraternity are cooperated with Give Where You Live, so when I heard we were doing this event again I had to jump on the chance,” he said.
Knowing the event is actively benefitting the lives of others is constant motivation for student volunteers, Cahill said. Many times children are overlooked when in fact they need role models to guide them through everything they absorb at that age.
“I know a couple of freshmen have asked me, being a senior what is the one thing I would tell you? It’s get involved," he said. "It was something I didn’t do in high school and regret it now. Now that I’ve done it in college and seen it, it definitely works. Two words. Get. Involved."
Editor's Note: The original version of this story indicated that "Project Night Night" bags went to children in foster care. The bags went to children in homeless shelters.
Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.