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Comfort Bags for Foster Kids Bring Comforting Meaning to Mitzvah Doers

Under the watchful eyes of Mitzvah Day chairs Laurie Tragen-Boykoff and Cathy Spencer and thirty volunteers, Congregation Or Ami’s Mitzvah Day created 325 Comfort Bags filled with new clothes, toiletries, books, games, journals, toys, a decorated “sweet dreams” pillowcase and a personalized card. The Comfort Bags have been given to social workers who will give them to children who would be going into foster care because of abuse or neglect in their families. Volunteers expected to help foster kids; little did they realize how much their lives would be touched by the Mitzvah Day experience.

Three Or Ami congregants share their experiences: A mother of two teenagers, a father of two younger children, and a newly married man.

Amy Pucker writes:

Sophie Barnes (center) with other VolunTEENS

On November 6, 2012, our family took part in Mitzvah Day. We have been participating since our now teenage girls were little and this is an event along with Child Spree that we look forward to each year!

Mitzvah Day is a chance for our family to focus on and participate hands on in Tikkun Olam (fixing the world). It is a concrete reminder for us and our children of the many kids and families out there that are less fortunate. For the past several years, the girls have donated part of their tzedakah (charitable donations), either shopping for items needed on the list or donating money. In 2010, as part of her Bat Mitzvah project, Sophie collected gently used backpacks that were also distributed to the foster kids as part of Mitzvah Day. 

This year, Abby had to miss as she was in Israel yet she was able, through Or Ami’s VolunTEENS group, to help plan the teen project. Sophie enjoyed working alongside the other VolunTEENS members cutting and making blankets to donate to animal shelters. My husband Brett filled extra bags for us.   

I had the ability this year to stand in the center of the sanctuary to direct other volunteers to the different areas on their list. I was thrilled to see so many familiar and new faces sharing in the event. It was amazing to watch as children as young as 3 years old, adults of all ages, and everyone in between, as they took such care and concern in making the right choices for their Comfort Bag, carefully decorated their pillowcases and designed caring cards to try and bring comfort for the kids that would receive them.

Although Mitzvah Day is just one day in the year, it is a reminder to our family of our need to help others less fortunate throughout the year.

Adam Wasserman writes: 

Aidan with his parents

Two weeks ago, my son’s journal assignment was to write about something meaningful to him. Aidan is 10 years old and in fourth grade. He wrote about Mitzvah Day at Congregation Or Ami, packing Comfort Bags for children that he did not know, and what the experience meant to him.  

In his essay, Aidan wrote that “there are troubled children in the world and he wants to help him.” I didn’t know it meant so much to him. Nor did I know he was thinking about Mitzvah Day a year later.

Today at Mitzvah Day 2012, I was able to watch him do it again. I saw his anticipation for the event; how excited he was to get there and pack another bag. From the way he was acting, this could of have been a day at Disneyland, another Halloween, or a trip to GameStop with his $100.00 gift card. Today, his excitement for Mitzvah Day exceeded all of these.

As a father, this means so much to me on many levels. A main concern I have for my young children is what they get excited about and what they look forward to in life. I thought I knew what was most meaningful to my ten year old: his Xbox, PG+ movies, iPhones, play dates, crazy birthday parties, and lots of sugar. I was wrong; it is Mitzvah day. He is more excited about helping people than anything our modern world offers him. My son, in the midst of everything that surrounds him, chose Mitzvah day. 

Such a happy feeling and comfort for me! I know in Aidan’s heart there is solid truth. Mitzvah day allows him to realize his truth and express it.

Aaron Koch writes:

Aaron Koch, the Body Wash and Deodorant Man

My wife Krista and I arrived at Congregation Or Ami on Sunday morning to a lot of energy in the room. It reminded me of something but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had been at the synagogue the day before, helping to sort and count, but it was different on Sunday; people seemed really excited.

I was paired with a father-son team in the hygiene area where I was working the “body wash and deodorant” station. Two minutes later, there were people everywhere, going every direction. I was tossing deodorant and body wash in bags, directing people to the hidden station in the back corner of the kitchen. All of a sudden, my inner “Yankee Stadium hotdog vendor” overwhelmed me and I shouted in my thickest New York accent, “Deodorant! Body wash! Getcha deodorant and body wash right here! Stay fresh all day! Get it while it’s hot!”

I know I amused several people; I may have frightened a few as well. But it was fun, extremely rewarding and, as it turns out, Mitzvah day brought out the NFTY kid in me. (NFTY is the North American Federation of Temple Youth, of which Or Ami’s LoMPTY youth group is a part.) I didn’t realize it at the time, but it makes me chuckle now, just thinking about it. I got downright silly on Sunday.  

I find it beautiful and amazing that we can get together to do something so profound, and, at the same time, have such a light hearted, silly time together doing it. One young man, about 12 years old, was packing a bag meant for a 14 to 17 year old girl and actually covered his eyes as he stuffed the feminine hygiene products into the Comfort Bag. I almost laughed out loud, LOL, but I managed to contain myself.  

I was really struck me by how much care everyone was putting into the process. Picking out the right game or book, even the deodorant, was a careful choice, each person making sure to choose the right one. The pillow case art was impressive; people really went the extra mile. It makes me feel good and very proud to be a part of this community.

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