JF & amp;CS offers many ways to give

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

It is not uncommon for people to respond “I don’t know” if you ask them what they want for Hanukkah. Young children being the exception. The enormous amount of advertising this time of year is to convince consumers of all ages that the things they “want” are the things they “need.”

However, for many area Jewish families, the needs are very real as they struggle to make ends meet. Jewish Family & Children’s Service social worker Sherry Hartz has more than 70 active cases of Jewish families needing financial assistance. One of the many ways the community can assist these families is through the Adopt-A-Family program.

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Hartz works on the program with Susan Rundblad, coordinator of the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. Individuals, groups and organizations can choose to adopt one or more families. They receive anonymous information about each member of their adopted family: age, gender, sizes, needs and wants. Usually information is given out about the children only, though the adult information can be requested as well. Gifts must always be new items and gift certificates are especially enjoyed.

Amy Gallant first became aware of the program when her son Richie created birthday bags for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry for his bar mitzvah.

“I feel over the past couple of years, as I have become older and become more involved in the community, I realized other people’s needs sometimes should go before mine,” Richie said. “The Adopt-A-Family program is a really great way to help other people and put them before me.”

Amy is part of a very large group that includes her family, extended family and close friends who get together to celebrate the holidays. Every Hanukkah they would do a giant gift exchange, which they all felt had gotten a little excessive. Besides, they all felt their children had everything they needed, Amy said.

Last year their group adopted two families. They went shopping the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the sales and the fact that most of the group was already off of school and work. More than a dozen of them braved the crowds to personally pick out the gifts for their adopted families. On Hanukkah they got together to celebrate the holiday and wrap the gifts they purchased. The adults and children really enjoyed themselves. It was a great bonding experience they are all looking forward to repeating this year, said Amy’s mother-in-law, Diane Gallant, who also serves as a Jewish Light board member.

“It is a really good way to teach our grandkids the meaning of tzedakah,” Diane said. “It felt so right. It was the most fun Hanukkah we’ve ever had.”

Another way to help needy families this time of year is through the Hanukkah Hugs program. The program collects new toys only for children from birth to age 16. Drop-off bins are located at many synagogues and agencies throughout the Jewish community and toys can be brought directly to JF &CS.

“The greatest need is for gifts for children ages 10 and up,” Rundblad said. “These could include gift certificates for music, book, toy or convenience stores where children could choose from a variety of items.”

The number of clients has increased over 25 percent a month and supplies need constant replenishing at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. They currently serve clients in 60 ZIP codes, which means one very important contribution people can make to any of the JF &CS programs is their time. They are low on volunteers and this time of year they especially need extra help to sort out the toys.

“It takes twice as long to serve our food pantry clients this time of year,” Rundblad said.

“When they come to pick up their food, we also go down to the basement to pick out the toys for their children.”

Clearly there are many ways to assist the needy through the programs of JF &CS. A unique advantage to the Adopt-A-Family program is the option of continuing to enrich the lives of the family throughout the year. There are many opportunities to purchase items to assist with things such as helping to get ready for the school year, birthdays and gift certificates for the little extras many people take for granted, like movie passes, restaurant and activities for kids like bowling or skating. Adopt-A-Family is also the name of a fund at the agency which accepts monetary donations to assist Jewish families throughout the year.

“Everyone had such a great time we decided to do it again this year,” Amy said. “It is very heartwarming to give to others. We only wish we had started doing this sooner.”

For more information on the Adopt-A-Family program, Hanukkah Hugs or to volunteer your time call: Susan Rundblad at 314-812-9307 or Sherry Hartz at 314-812-9306.