Less than a mile from my synagogue is an elementary school with a very diverse student population. There are kids that live in million dollar homes that attend the school as well as kids that don’t have enough food to eat. Many first generation immigrants from Africa and Asia have settled in the apartments near the school and send their kids to learn not only basic academics, but also the English language.
Our synagogue has created a program to help feed these students during the time when they aren’t at school. Many of the kids receive breakfast and lunch at school under the free and reduced lunch program, but sometimes don’t have enough food to eat at home on the weekends and on school break.
The synagogue regularly hosts a food gathering and packing of snacks to send to the school. The kids in need of food receive the bags on Fridays to make sure that they have enough food to eat at home during the weekend. Their teachers discreetly put the food in their backpacks so as to not make them feel self-conscious in front of their peers.
The leaders of the program, synagogue members who are volunteers, send a monthly email to the entire synagogue. The email includes a detailed list of requested foods and volunteers sign up for certain items which they will purchase and bring in to the synagogue (popcorn, oatmeal, raisins, milk boxes, granola bars, etc.). Once per month the elementary aged kids and many of their parents gather after Hebrew School on Sundays to pack food bags. The older kids (7th-12th grades) also meet for weekly education classes and designate a time each month to packing the food bags.
Two Fridays per month we provide bags for 225 kids at the school. On the alternate weeks that our synagogue does not give to the school another organization, Food For Others, makes food available to the students.
I have participated several times and this past week as I was sitting on the floor collapsing boxes that the food had come in, I was really touched by what was before me. There must have been more than twenty kids and almost as many adults sorting food, piling up the recyclables and assembling bags. The leaders have it down to a science and the kids are all hugely invested in the process. They sometimes race to see who can pack a bag the fastest, are concerned when we run out of an item wanting to insure that each bag has enough food and are excited by the bulk of product that we are creating for our neighbors.
I am proud of the program and of these kids whose families are teaching them about helping their less fortunate peers. The Hebrew word, tzedakah, which literally means justice, but is commonly used to signify charity, is a large part of Jewish tradition. In Judaism, tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, which Judaism emphasises are important parts of living a spiritual life. A little tzedekah can go a long way and I am honored to be a little tiny part of this nice process.
Gathering the goods