Ways to Jewishly Volunteer This Season

Gerard P. Cuddy, president and CEO of Beneficial Bank and honoree of JRA’s upcoming 2017 Annual Event, packs sweet potatoes during the November Food Distribution in Northeast Philly. | Photo provided by JRA

There’s something about fall into winter that brings out the generosity in people. In part, it’s the cluster of celebrations, both religious and secular, which occasions concern for others, wanting to make sure that everyone has a place to worship, has enough food to eat, has company with whom to eat it.

For those who decide to volunteer because they want to serve the Jewish community specifically, in order to connect more meaningfully with that community or bring a Jewish ethos to serving members of other faith communities, there are ample opportunities in the Philadelphia area to get your tikkun olam groove on. Here are just a few.

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Information and Referral Service.  Given Jewish Federation’s status as the ultimate community convener, there are few better places to start when looking for information of this kind. Linda Roth, director of Jewish Information and Referral, generally starts out by letting people know about the Jewish Federation-affiliated Mitzvah Food Project, consisting of five pantries that distribute food to those in need, and the Northeast Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), which supports those aged 60 and older. Both programs tend to need volunteers year-round.

She also has a list of Jewish programs, broken down into categories like Hunger and Senior, that she emails to people looking to volunteer. “One of the crying needs of the community throughout the year is transportation: people willing to deliver food and to take people to doctor’s appointments and stuff,” said Roth.

At this time of year, though, Roth said she frequently gets a more specific kind of request: places where people can volunteer time on Christmas Day. “They’re looking to serve meals often,” she said. “They’re Jewish people who say, ‘It’s not my holiday so I want to volunteer on this day I have available.’” In that case, she often refers them to the United Way’s VolunteerMatch.org, which she said is a very robust matching site.

In addition, said Roth, synagogues and JCCs will often have mitzvah days during December, so check with them individually as the month progresses, as well as with the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Contact [email protected] for more information.  

Jewish Relief Agency.  Philadelphia’s JRA offers a wide range of options for Jewish volunteering, including its well-known food distribution opportunities.

“At JRA we love to celebrate the small acts that have a big impact on our community, whether that’s packing and delivering a box of food to someone in need, giving a senior a ride to the doctor or even just visiting a homebound individual,” said JRA Director of Volunteer Engagement Lynn Berkowitz. “Each and every one of us can change our community, and the whole world, for the better.”

Berkowitz invites any interested parties to stop by the Dec. 10 food distribution, when volunteers will be packing and delivering special Chanukah food boxes to more than 5,320 hungry individuals across Greater Philadelphia. The day gets rolling at 10 a.m. at the warehouse at 10980 Dutton Road.

While it’s actually a lot of fun to spend the day at the Northeast Philly warehouse, such large-scale volunteer activities aren’t for everyone. The less social volunteers among us can sign up with JRAid.org, JRA’s online service that matches volunteers with families and individuals who need help of all kind. You can match your own skills and preferences to the people requesting assistance. Then you’ll receive volunteer gigs that are suited to you, and that even include information about the kind of equipment required (if any), such as a ladder to reach a burnt-out light bulb on an elderly person’s porch. Think of it as the Tinder of Jewish volunteerism.

Go to jewishrelief.org or JRAid.org for more information.

JFCS.  Since 1855, Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) has provided services to people of every age, children to seniors, with a remarkable range of offerings. As a result, the volunteer opportunities with JFCS are plentiful, from delivering challah to sorting clothing to working in a teaching kitchen. In addition, JFCS shepherds Bar and Bat Mitzvah projects, offering students a meaningful local experience tailored to their interests. Most volunteers start out by filling out a volunteer application, which can be found online. They then complete a phone interview and orientation.

“Our volunteers are primarily working with people living with disabilities, Holocaust survivors and older adults,” said Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager Sharon Schwartz. “[They’re assisting with] therapeutic and educational programming, being proactive to clients’ needs.”

Programs mostly operate out of the Barbara and Harvey Brodsky Enrichment Center of JFCS in Bala Cynwyd and include Our Closet, Circle of Hands, Challah Mitzvah Program and more. “We have so much going on,” Schwartz said, pointing to some upcoming events that are especially friendly to the new volunteer, as they don’t require vetting. One is with a program for clients living with disabilities; the other is a Chanukah celebration. “We’re also going to be introducing painting circles,” said Schwartz, noting that they’re constantly partnering with schools and organizations.

To learn more, contact Schwartz at [email protected] or visit jfcsphilly.org/volunteer.

JEVS Human Services.  At the same time that JEVS has newly committed to building an established volunteer network, it launched its own spin on Giving Tuesday called #DoingTuesday. “We were taking the idea of giving your time as well as your dollars,” said Chief Operating Officer Nancy Astor Fox. “We’re engaging people in acts of loving kindness in addition to giving.” This week, JEVS hosted three activities for #DoingTuesday, including packing winter care packages and holding mock interviews.

Astor Fox wrote about #DoingTuesday for ejewishphilanthropy.com, saying, “Why #DoingTuesday? We hope to engage our donors in giving of their time and talents to directly help our clients. We hope that it will inspire more to become involved, to learn more about our work, and, ultimately, to click that ‘donate now’ button.”

Astor Fox said the #DoingTuesday campaign garnered national attention, but there’s plenty left to do after the fact as well. Tutoring is a particular need, both at the Center for New Americans as well as with JEVS’ other programs. And they always need help with mock interviews.

To get involved, contact Ranee Shipley ([email protected]) for more information.

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Liz Spikol is the Jewish Exponent's editor in chief; she has worked for the publication for four years. Prior to that she was at Philadelphia magazine, Curbed Philly and the before-its-time Tek Lado, a magazine for bilingual Latinx geeks. She is active in the American Jewish Press Association and contributes to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, Baltimore Jewish Times, Washington Jewish Week and Phoenix Jewish News. A Philly native, Spikol got a bachelor's degree at Oberlin College and a master's at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Mt. Airy.


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