The night begins in a closet. Tucked away behind an unlabeled and wonderfully mysterious door on the first floor of Old Union, the 5-SURE shed is a Pop-Tart lover’s paradise. Safeway bags overflowing with such exotic flavors as cherry and blueberry, tiny water bottles and Annie’s fruit snacks abound. After rallying the troops, four other bundled-up employees of Stanford’s most human service, the cart is loaded, the chairs are packed and we’re off into the night.
Alcohol is a staple of the American college experience. Consumed for varying reasons and between the closest of friends or the strangest of strangers, alcohol is the bread holding together any halfway decent Saturday night. Partygoers caught in the interim between event A and event B are liable to stop at 5-SURE’s event C. Stationed en route to the major party of the night, our team hawks free snacks, free water and free walks home. The response varies based on the factors of the evening, but our vantage point never changes. We are all sober (no drinking on the job), and so we are a part of people’s nights for a moment, simultaneously having our own separate experience right alongside theirs.
Last Saturday night was a slow one. Or at least that’s what the more regular employees told me. Saturday was my first night on the job, and I had brought a notepad, a pencil and the expectations of experiencing something unknown. My desire to become a writer has taught me that the stuff of life becomes the stuff of fiction, and so when opportunity for observation arises, preparation is necessary.
The first hour, our Pop-Tarts were in top form, and the array of flavors positively astounded passersby. The overwhelming crowd favorite was brown sugar cinnamon, and the exclamations of joy upon confirmation that we did in fact have a second box momentarily distracted me from the fact that we didn’t have a toaster. Shouting about how our items were in fact free, the night’s inhabitants were a range of shocked, suspicious and grateful. The small exchanges between us and them usually consisted of naught more than pleasantries but somehow always felt intimate. We were bound to see faces we recognized; this context shift is always humorous to both parties. However, even those students we didn’t hug, smile or wave to became faces in our memory bank and threads in our experience of Stanford. Speaking for myself, I was reminded of the many possible friends wandering this campus at all hours, of the wide expanse of possible minds to learn from and engage with.
In our rapidly changing world, the notion of something given without expectation is difficult to comprehend. Gifts are assumed to have connotations, or the constriction of a catch. And yet 5-SURE is, at its most basic level, the sharing of kindness on nights that have the potential to turn dark. I remember the first time I ran, quite literally, into the 5-SURE table. It was the middle of fall quarter, and I was leaving the first and last all-campus party I would attend, and 5-SURE was stationed, as they always are, outside of the party. Snuggled up between fresh friends I was sure would be besties, I heard the notorious sounds of the 5-SURE employees calling out about their services. Sometimes it feels like everything in our lives has a price. Having been born and raised in Hawaii, a culture filled and rife with hospitality, generosity is very familiar to me. My native Hawaiian mother would never allow me to return a neighbor’s borrowed pot without first filling it with something like mangos or plumerias. And so 5-SURE’s kindness was familiar and comforting. 5-SURE made me feel safe, and warm, and loved.
In a university this large, experiences border on impersonal. Three hundred students to a lecture, office-hours more like large sections, buildings you’ve never heard of cropping up on streets you’ve never seen. And yet, 5-SURE capitalizes on an experience many students at Stanford participate in — going out on the weekends. And so this service wades through the disconnect of size and zeroes in on the heart of interpersonal exchange. 5-SURE is there to provide those bare necessities of life, food, water and above all, human intimacy.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.