Night Light Tulsa meets under the bridge at Maybelle Avenue and Brady Street every Thursday night to serve the homeless and low-income communities. It was inspired by a similar event in Portland, Oregon called Night Strike. Sarah Grounds and her husband Jason saw a documentary about the 12-year-old program around the same time their friend and co-founder Ansia Jackson served there during a mission trip.
“We felt pulled to do something like that here in Tulsa,” Grounds says. “We had a desire to step outside of our comfort zone and be impactful in our community.”
It remained a desire for a year more until a request from their son revived their plan. He asked to spend his eighth birthday helping the homeless instead of having a party.
The bridge allows us to serve in an open-air environment that is not restricting or imposing. It provides a block party atmosphere that people can enjoy being a part of. We also chose this specific bridge because it was located between the city shelters and a low-income neighborhood.
The next week they invited people from their church to help give out meals, and many expressed an interest to serve more often. The founding group sat down to work out what it would take to hold the event on a regular basis. Two months later, they hosted their first official Night Light Tulsa event on September 19, 2013.
The group offers far more than a warm meal. In addition to food, they provide clothing, hygiene products, foot washing, haircuts, manicures and books. They also have a prayer station for those who want to take part and a kid zone where the younger visitors can play, read and color. They also have volunteers serve as hosts and hostesses who spend time with guests and get to know them.
“While we do many things to bring relief, our main goal is to build relationships,” Grounds explains. “We desire to encourage others by providing them with dignity, by seeing them when others look away, by providing relief to those that are struggling, by being a friend to the lonely, by raising awareness about the poverty and mental illness and by mobilizing kindness. We value all people because they matter.”
The location the group selected plays a vital role in the success of the event.
“We knew we wanted an outdoor location. There are many that are not allowed in shelters for one reason or another,” Grounds says. “There are also those with mental illness that feel very uncomfortable in an enclosed space. The bridge allows us to serve in an open-air environment that is not restricting or imposing. It provides a block party atmosphere that people can enjoy being a part of. We also chose this specific bridge because it was located between the city shelters and a low-income neighborhood. It allows us to work with more than one population.”
The organization operates completely through donations of both goods and time. They have about 60 to 100 volunteers each week, although that number tends to drop with the temperature. Grounds says anyone is welcome to volunteer, adding that they try to accommodate many comfort levels. All one has to do is show up at 6:30 p.m. under the bridge.
“We are thankful for the volunteers that have stepped up over the past 2 1/2 years,” she says. “They have made the bridge what it is. It makes you proud to know there are so many around you that will step out and give dignity and hope to others. We are excited to see what is ahead of us knowing there are so many great people looking for ways to serve others.”