Season of Service kicks off 5782 with commitment to volunteering

Rena Kates is co-chair of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Season of Service.
Rena Kates is co-chair of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Season of Service (Courtesy of Jewish Volunteer Connection)

Community members who decided during the High Holidays that they want to do more service work in the coming year are getting their chance through the Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Season of Service program.

Season of Service, which runs this year from Oct. 10-Nov. 14, is a month-long event that offers volunteer opportunities throughout the Baltimore area.

“I love that this event follows the Jewish New Year, when we set our intention to be more engaged and active members of our community,” said Rena Kates, co-chair of the Season of Service program, in an email. “It’s a way to put all of our New [Year’s] resolutions into action.”

A history of service

Season of Service offers a wide range of opportunities for volunteers to meet crucial community needs, said Erica Bloom, deputy director of Jewish Volunteer Connection.

“The event follows the High Holidays, as a means to kick off the Jewish New Year with a commitment to service,” said Bloom, a resident of the Lutherville area and member of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation.

Opportunities are available for everyone, no matter how concerned they are about exposure to COVID-19.

“That includes safe, in-person volunteering, as well as at home or in a controlled environment service opportunities,” Bloom said.

While JVC has been organizing Season of Service annually for the last few years, it has been organizing similar events bearing different names during the autumn for many years before that, Bloom said. She credited JVC’s lay leadership working closely with staff members with playing a major role in first organizing these annual programs.

“I have been involved with this program since it started a few years ago, and it’s been really fun for me to see how this [program] has evolved through the years,” said Kates, a resident of Pikesville and member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. “Our first year, we had a ‘Farm to Table’ Theme, where we explored food production from cultivation in the ground to preparation and then serving.

“Last year was a challenge of course, as we figured out how to navigate the pandemic,” Kates continued. “While we certainly learned a lot, and will retain some of our at home projects, I’m really looking [forward] this year to being [able] to safely gather in person for some of our events.”

Opportunities to volunteer

Volunteers assemble to clean up Jewish cemeteries on Bowleys Lane
Volunteers assemble to clean up Jewish cemeteries on Bowleys Lane (Courtesy of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore)

JVC kicked off Season of Service this year on Oct. 10 with a cleanup of some of the Jewish cemeteries located on Bowleys Lane, in partnership with the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore, Bloom said.

Many of the various programs that make up Season of Service are done in partnership with local Jewish organizations, Bloom said, including the Baltimore Jewish Council, Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. Funeral Home and a number of different synagogues.

One of Season of Service’s upcoming in-person volunteer opportunities is a cleanup of Western Run Stream on Nov. 14. The cleanup will focus on removing trash and beautifying the area and will be done in partnership with CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.

The Macks Center for Jewish Education and PJ Library are also having a book donation and sorting volunteer opportunity on Nov. 14. The book collection is part of a “Book Mitzvah” event to celebrate the 13 years that PJ Library has been in Baltimore, said Julie Wohl, the director of the PJ Library at CJE. When CJE learned that JVC’s Season of Service was scheduled for around that time, they decided it would make sense to partner up for the book donating part.

“Basically, we’re asking participants who are coming to Book Mitzvah … to bring books to donate,” said Wohl, a member of Congregation Kol Shalom in Annapolis. “We’re [also] asking for volunteers to sort the books and get them ready to get them donated.”

If every attendee of Book Mitzvah brought a book to donate, Wohl speculated, it could potentially allow CJE to donate anywhere from 200 to 300 books.

Cleanup of Bowleys Lane cemeteries
Cleanup of Bowleys Lane cemeteries (Courtesy of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore)

“We’re hoping that our families who come who bring books to donate, our volunteers who come to help make things run and get the books where they need to go, all see that PJ Library and being a Jewish person in our community is all about giving and receiving,” Wohl said.

Additionally, Sol Levinson is hosting a weekly collection of different items needed by community members, Bloom said. Depending on the week, Sol Levinson will be collecting items such as outerwear, including coats and shoes, as well as toiletries and women’s hygiene products, books and school supplies, according to the JVC website. After donors drop off their items at the Sol Levinson collection center, volunteers will sort the items and prepare them for delivery.

As part of Season of Service, JVC is also looking to help address what the Red Cross reports is a blood donation shortage by promoting a pair of blood drives, said Bloom. The first of these will be at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Oct. 20, while the second will be at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC on Nov. 11, according to the JVC website. JVC is also looking for volunteers able to help with registration and refreshments at the Nov. 11 blood drive.

A group of volunteers
A group of volunteers at a previous year’s Season of Service program (Courtesy of Jewish Volunteer Connection)

Bloom emphasized that, for many of the in-person events, JVC has been serving in more of a support role on tasks including promoting the events, mobilizing volunteers and having staff on site to assist, while the partner organizations take the lead. This is the case with both the Western Run Stream cleanup with CHAI and the Red Cross blood drives.

However, when it comes to at-home service projects, such as the Live With Purpose Kits, JVC is taking the lead. As these projects are done from home, Bloom stressed how they can be done safely from the controlled environment of the individual volunteer.

The Live With Purpose programs include the T-Shirt Tote Bags project, the Soup Kits project, the Casserole Challenge project and Bunches of Lunches.

For T-Shirt Tote Bags, volunteers will repurpose T-shirts into reusable tote bags that will be used to help with a local nonprofit’s Thanksgiving food distribution to local families. After registering for the program and providing a nominal donation, volunteers are given the necessary supplies with instructions on how to assemble the tote bags, which are afterward returned to JVC.

Similarly, the Soup Kits project provides volunteers with the ingredients needed to assemble a soup kit capable of feeding four to six people, according to the JVC website. The kits will then be donated to various organizations serving families facing food insecurity.

As for the Casserole Challenge, Bloom highlighted the popularity of the annual event.

Over 700 casseroles were donated in 2020, going to a dozen different nonprofits and schools in Baltimore. This year, JVC will be collecting donated casseroles on Nov. 30, Bloom said.

Bunches of Lunches is a weekly bagged meal collection program, done in partnership with a number of area congregations. Volunteers assemble the bagged meals at home, which then go to nonprofits addressing food insecurity.

Spreading joy and gratitude

Kates expressed her hope that Season of Service can become yet one more tradition that the community can engage in during the beginning of the Jewish year.

“Season of Service gives us the opportunity to add additional traditions during this season, by being intentional about serving others and by doing so in a way that meets vital community needs,” Kates said. “I hope that volunteers will be able to establish some new, meaningful traditions with their families and use this as an opportunity to spread joy and gratitude to others in a way that meets the needs of our service partners.”

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