Yale students and other volunteers have become crucial to the success of Sunrise Cafe, volunteering early in the morning to provide free breakfast for over 100 Elm City residents.
The cafe, which opened in March 2015 at 57 Olive St., is a volunteer-run service open five days a week that provides food for many low-income Elm City residents. According to John Bradley ’81 — one of the cafe’s founders and executive director of Liberty Community Services, the umbrella organization that funds the cafe — 13 volunteers signed in on Friday, including about 10 Yale students.
“People in the community and guests are in desperate situations financially,” Bradley said. “We love having the Yale students because it adds a level of diversity, excitement and interest that are all part of the fun.”
Liberty Community Services also helps Sunrise Cafe guests find housing. Since the Sunrise Cafe opened, 54 people have found housing.
Bradley, who coordinates logistics for many volunteer groups, said the number of volunteers Friday was slightly above the average. As few as six and as many as 25 volunteers have shown up per shift this month. He said there is typically an increased need for volunteers at the end of the month, when many of the guests are more strapped for cash, but the number depends on people’s availability. More student groups have been volunteering this year, he added.
Jackie Salzinger ’18 organized one of Friday’s student groups from Timothy Dwight College. She coordinated the volunteer session as part of the college’s inaugural New Haven Outreach team — a group of three college aides who aim to encourage students to engage with the city. This year, the team has provided several one-time volunteer opportunities for TD students.
“The philosophy behind this whole endeavor, from my perspective, is that if we can get people out into the community through one of these events, hopefully they’ll be more likely to seek out additional opportunities on their own, too,” Salzinger said.
Valentina Guerrero ’19, who volunteers at the cafe every Friday, coordinated another student volunteer group from Pierson through a Facebook event. According to Guerrero, three Piersonites volunteered on Friday.
“Once you go once, you feel the need to come again,” Guerrero said. “It’s such a warm, beautiful and inviting environment. That’s why I keep going back.”
Guerrero added that although she is planning on volunteering again this week, she is not sure if she will create another Facebook event. Next semester, she plans on organizing Pierson service trips to a local soup kitchen nearby in addition to volunteering at Sunrise Cafe.
According to Darby Henry ’17, who was not present on Friday but has been volunteering at the cafe regularly since it opened, other student groups such as the Christian ministry Yale Faith and Action organize trips frequently.
“Student volunteers are really critical for success,” Bradley said. “It’s fun for them and fun for us.”
Ellen Gabrielle, one of the original founders of the cafe, said about half of Sunrise Cafe volunteers are Yale students. The other half is composed of her friends, groups from other local universities and other New Haven residents. Gabrielle credits Henry for spearheading Yale student involvement, adding that students will most likely continue to volunteer after Henry graduates.
Henry said although she initially reached out to friends and student volunteer groups after the cafe opened, “at this point, it’s not me anymore. Anyone would have fallen in love with Sunrise and wanted to share it with everyone else.”
According to Bradley, many volunteer groups have returned to Sunrise Cafe. He said student groups, company groups and other New Haven residents seem to enjoy the experience and want to come back.
“It’s kind of like a family there,” she said.