Doing Mitzvot for Baltimore With Alan Elkin

Alan Elkin
Alan Elkin (Photo by Heather M. Ross)

By day, Alan Elkin works in IT for the Social Security Administration. But by night, he’s a serial volunteer with organizations like the Macks Jewish Connection Network.

Elkin, 63, has helped craft winter care packages in December for 18 years. This volunteer program is now called Mitzvah Month, and it’s a project of the Jewish Connection Network. It was formerly called Mitzvah Day and used to be a project of Jewish Volunteer Connection.

Elkin lives in Reisterstown with his wife. They are members of Beth El Congregation, where Elkin is part of the men’s club.

This year, rather than packing all the mitzvah goodness into one day, the Jewish Connection Network spread it out over nine smaller projects throughout December, hence the name change from Mitzvah Day to Mitzvah Month. While this year was “quite different,” Elkin said things worked out well.

This year’s volunteer mission led to 2,200 winter care packages reaching the hands and homes of those in need, but it’s not all the fruit of one month’s labor.

According to Elkin, he and other frequent volunteers meet throughout the year to coordinate partnerships with local organizations like shelters and charities.

Once the donated or purchased items are gathered, members of Baltimore’s Jewish community show up and help pack the socks, gloves, snacks, toiletries and other much-needed supplies into bags to be distributed — and Elkin is right there in the middle of it.

“Many of the bags go to kids,” Elkin said. “It’s fulfilling to know that they’re going to walk away with one of our bags. It’s almost disappointing we can’t do more.”

Many of the bags are distributed on Christmas Day.

“We aren’t celebrating, but we can give back to the community while they’re celebrating. We help people in need on that day off where everyone else is having their celebration and everything is closed,” Elkin said.

While he said this project is the capstone project for the Jewish Connection Network, it’s only one path of many that the organization is taking to meet needs in Baltimore. The organization also packs lunches for people and organizes volunteers to read to kids in schools.

“They have a lot of people and opportunities to volunteer,” Elkin said. “They come out and connect with other people in the community.”

Elkin understands connecting through service well. His 18-year-long stretch of volunteering every Mitzvah Day began when one of his daughters encouraged him to participate after she returned to the United States from a youth mission to Ukraine with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.

“When she came back, she had heard about Mitzvah Day and she said, ‘Dad, you gotta come down and help out,’” Elkin said.

This was exactly what Elkin says he’s always wanted for his family. Since that first Mitzvah Day, Elkin has volunteered alongside his wife, kids and father-in-law.

“My mother volunteered with a lot of groups. Volunteering is always a good thing. It’s an important Jewish value and you always feel good about it,” Elkin said. “I was excited to get my kids involved in it because it was a value I had growing up and now as an adult.”

Volunteering doesn’t just help others, it helps the person giving too, according to Elkin. It teaches the volunteer to appreciate others and fosters empathy.

Today, Elkin’s daughters are adults — some nearby and others as far away as Seattle, Washington or Florida. But Elkin’s hobby-in-progress is a way for him to stay close to his family — no matter how far away life takes them.

Outside of his IT job and his volunteer activities, Elkin is pursuing his pilot’s license by taking flying lessons in Westminster.

“Once I get my license, I’ll be able to take my wife out for a nice dinner wherever we wanna go,” Elkin said.

The pair met in college and got married in 1985. They have four adult daughters and four grandchildren.

“They’re all successful, they work with charities and they like to help people,” Elkin said.

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