Thanksgiving is a time for counting one's blessings and sharing with others less fortunate. The Perilstein family got into the spirit of the holiday several days early, with a low-key celebration of their matriarch, Cookie's, 75th birthday.
She was surrounded by her husband, William; her children, Margie and Brian Wargon, Linda and Joel Appelbaum, Jayne and Ronald Perilstein, and Nancy and Robert Perilstein, and her nine grandchildren. There was a cake, but no presents as stipulated by the honoree who asked, in lieu of gifts, that money be donated in her name to Federation's Mitzvah Food Project.
Perilstein explained that "my husband and I are able to afford and buy for ourselves anything that we need; however, this is not the case for those served by the Mitzvah Food Project."
During her five years as a volunteer at the Project's JCCs Kevy K. & Hortense M. Kaiserman Branch in Wynnewood, Perilstein has seen a significant increase in demand for services from the neighborhood's older adults.
"Many of these men and women need kosher, low-salt and low-sugar food, which they cannot afford to purchase on their own," she commented.
She expressed the hope that donations made in her honor will enable the purchase of these items.
Perilstein views her work with the Mitzvah Food Project as a distinct "labor of love."
"I really enjoy what I do and feel good that I help make a difference in the lives of others," she said.
Mitzvah Food Project staff coordinator Drisana Davis expressed her gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday for the work of volunteers, like Perilstein, and the countless other individuals and organizations that enable the project to help address food insecurities throughout the year.
"Their efforts make it possible for us to serve at-risk older adults, children and families at our five Greater Philadelphia pantry sites," said Davis, who is particularly thankful for the success of the High Holiday food drive.
Davis applauded the work of Federation staff, volunteers, and 55 Jewish organizations and synagogues that helped collect an estimated 75,515 pounds of food during the annual drive. "We are up more than 23,000 pounds over last year," she said.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, 118 volunteers sorted and boxed these donations at the SHARE warehouse. This food will be distributed over the next few months throughout the Mitzvah Food Project network.
Davis acknowledged SHARE for volunteering its truck, drivers and warehouse space to this project, and sends a special thank you to Congregation Beth El Ner Tamid for collecting over 700 cans of tuna; Main Line Reform for collecting almost 10,000 pounds of food at their synagogue alone; and Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia for not only collecting over 4,000 pounds of food, but for volunteering to rent a van to deliver and unload their collected food at SHARE's warehouse.
This is the second year in a row that Temple Brith Achim has done this extra mitzvah.
The efforts of the community volunteers who organized food drives, stored their collections, delivered and/or sorted food at the warehouse made this year's High Holiday drive a success.
"With this kind of support, the Mitzvah Food Project will be able to continue to keep food on its pantry shelves and meet the growing needs in our community," Davis commented.
She expressed her gratitude to the 55 synagogues and Jewish organizations that contributed to the success of this annual event.
Davis applauded the selflessness and generosity of the Perilstein family and invited community members who are interested in honoring or paying tribute to a friend or loved one to send them a Mitzvah Food Project Card.
"Cookie is the kind of volunteer who truly recognizes the value of giving, and we are exceptionally lucky to have her as a volunteer at the Mitzvah Food Project, and on several other boards at Federation. She has a long history with the Federation and she sees the direct impact her efforts have on the community. All proceeds go directly to the Mitzvah Food Project, which ensures that people in need in Greater Philadelphia do not go hungry," she said.
Davis would like to find more volunteers like Perilstein to help the Mitzvah Food Project meet the growing community need during these challenging economic times. She encouraged interested individuals to visit www.jewishphilly.org/mfp  for more information on how to get involved. Or contact her directly at 215-832-0531 or [email protected] .