By Lisa Woolfson
Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Mitzvah Day has become Mitzvah Week this year.
Mitzvah Day is an annual Christmas Day program that connects volunteers with a variety of hands-on service projects throughout Greater Baltimore.
This year, Mitzvah Week runs from Dec. 20-25. JVC decided to add more days to the program in order to provide more opportunities for community members to participate. In addition, because the pandemic is limiting the number of attendees at in-person events, more time is needed to complete the work.
“We realized when we normally do it, around Dec. 24 and 25, that can be limiting for some folks who work, are at school, have other commitments, even who are out of town, so we extended it to try and maximize participation,” said Deborah Harburger, who chairs Mitzvah Week and is on the board of JVC.
Last year, there were more than 1,600 participants for Mitzvah Day’s programming on Dec. 24 and 25. This year, JVC expects several hundred volunteers.
Volunteer opportunities include service “to go” projects that volunteers can work on from home, such as creating blankets and making women’s self-care kits. Volunteers can also come to community sites and help assemble winter care packages. Other opportunities include transporting the winter care packages and other donations and doing on-site service. There are also virtual experiences, which consist of online service, learning and project parties. For project parties, participants get together on Zoom to complete projects, like tie-dyeing face masks.
For Ashley Pressman, executive director of JVC, it was clear they should keep Mitzvah Day going this year.
“We recognize that the 2,000 winter care packages that we typically provide is one of those sacred obligations that people and organizations have really come to count on,” said Pressman, who lives in Reservoir Hill and attends Beth Am.
In years past, Mitzvah Day participation was in person except for the volunteers who knit year round for the winter care packages. But this year, most volunteers will be working from home.
For the few in-person activities, JVC is taking precautions like requiring masks and having hand sanitizer. Pressman said most of these activities wouldn’t be possible virtually, but there is a backup plan if they can’t meet safely in person. Many of the in-person events are already full.
One Mitzvah Week participant is Matthew Hackner, a member of the Air Force reserve who lives in Pikesville and attends Chizuk Amuno Congregation. He donated some needed materials, with help from those he knew.
“It was an easy sell to my military colleagues, who were happy to chip in,” he said.
This year, JVC is partnering with the Edlavitch DCJCC for this event. The DCJCC is providing service-learning opportunities and partnering with JVC for the tie-dye
JVC is especially in need of volunteers to help with meal service projects. Participants can cook at home and then either drop the food off or help serve it to the community.
Usually, materials for projects like blankets are free, but many community organizations are struggling this year, so the JVC is having to charge for many projects.
“We’re attempting to meet some vital health and safety needs of members of our community,” said Harburger, who lives in Mount Washington and attends Chizuk Amuno. “Sometimes it feels like just putting a Band-Aid on because we’re not addressing underlying causes and structural problems. But this year, it’s really important to have this because it gives people hope, it connects people. Hopefully we give people what they need to put one foot in front of the other and make it through another day.”
Lisa Woolfson is a freelance writer.