Tag: mitzvah day

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.

Former Foster Child Reflects Upon Receiving Mitzvah Day Comfort Bag

  Ever wonder how our Mitzvah Day “Comfort Bags” impact the lives of the kids who receive them. The 325 “Comfort Bags” we create are handed to children as they are removed from their homes to protect them from abuse or neglect. They enter the foster care system with little to nothing, except the “Comfort Bag” we fill with clothes, books, journals, toiletries, toys, a hand-decorated pillowcase, and a personalized greeting card.

Recently, at a Campfire Shabbat service, we heard from a young mother named “America,” who spoke about her journey into foster care, and what receiving a “Comfort Bag” would have meant to her. America was so touched by her experience of sharing her story with our congregation, that she sent this letter to the congregation:

A Letter from America
Dear Friends,

First of all I want to thank every single one of you for sharing with me that beautiful night full of joy. I also want to tell you a little bit more about myself, and a little about what I had in my heart to say but couldn’t because I was so nervous.

Congregation Or Ami’s Campfire service was my first time speaking before a group. For a few minutes I was only able to hear my heart beating in my chest, but I knew in my heart that I was in front of a group of great people. People who are willing to help innocent, helpless kids who are going through what could be the worst experience in their lives.

The kids don’t see it as the system is helping them. They see it as the system is taking them away from their families, and as everybody would agree FAMILY is by far the most important and real thing a human being can have. Family is what helps us survive in this world. If you lose that, you are left with nothing to live for. We feel unprotected, defenseless, and, to some degree, naked. That is why I believe in my heart that what you are doing for these kids is huge.

As for me, like I mentioned at the campfire service, the foster care system was the best thing that could have ever happened to me at that moment in my life. By then, I had already lost my family, meaning my mom. The aunt I was living with would abuse me all the time. So when I was taken to my new (foster) home, it was just perfect. I know that not all the kids end up in a good (foster) home but I was lucky enough to have taken to a beautiful family – a mom and her son. It was perfect for me.

After that, all the things that kept coming to my life were just blessing. Amazing people – just like you – that I encountered, changed my life forever. I was also blessed with Jessica Ambroz, who was my social worker at that time, and who is now my best friend, my mentor, my savior at times, and who I love deeply. It is because of people like you and her that my life changed to something good. To something closer to being a normal kid. It built my character; it healed my heart. Therefore, I want you to know that it is making a big difference in the lives of these kids because you are proving to them, letting them know, that out in the world there is someone who DOES care for their well being, who is not taking away something, but is providing for them. And if its something so personalized like the Mitzvah Day Comfort Bags, it’s even more powerful and more meaningful. It’s a positive seed of love and kindness that you are planting in their souls.

For sure it’s going to take their innocent minds off of that bitter moment they went through when they were taken away. And if it doesn’t at that moment, one day in their lives they’ll recognize and realize what a great gesture it was and maybe, just maybe, they will also want to support a good cause just like you are doing now.

I was a victim once but because of people like you, my life changed. Now, because of that, every time that I have the opportunity, I help others. I hope one day to be able to provide a loving family to one of those kids that need it. As for now, I’m looking for the opportunity to move forward everyday to provide for the beautiful family of my own. But I know that one day, God will provide for me and my family to help a few kids in this life. 

Thank you again. Don’t forget that you are changing a life!

Come Volunteer at Mitzvah Day
On Sunday, November 4th, we gather at Congregation Or Ami to fill Comfort Bags for young people. We remind ourselves of the Jewish imperative to “care for the stranger, the orphan and the poor.” We remember that each child, created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God, is valued and worthy. We move from the desire to help, to the act of helping. Join us on November 4th from 11:00 am-1:00 pm.

View pictures from previous Mitzvah Days.