Friday, 04 September 2009 00:00
On a sizzling summer day, nearly 20 Jewish women from Long Island crammed into five cars loaded with bags of groceries and traveled to Rhode Island for a four-day social-action mission that included everything from feeding the hungry to building a home for the homeless, as part of UJA-Federation of New York’s Port Washington/Sands Point Women’s Volunteer Mission in Rhode Island.
The trip, which ran from Monday, Aug. 3 to Thursday, Aug. 6, encompassed an array of social-action volunteer efforts and Jewish cultural activities. Deena Katz and Debbie Shlafmitz chaired the mission, which was led by Bari Ziegel, director of UJA-Federation’s New Leadership Campaign on Long Island, and Donna Divon, program executive with UJA-Federation’s community and volunteer services.
The domestic mission was inspired by separate but related missions to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Their children’s participation in one of these social-action trips, through the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, a UJA-Federation beneficiary agency, fueled Ms. Katz’s and Ms. Shlafmitz’s interest in organizing a volunteer effort for women. In addition, on five separate occasions, Westchester volunteers, through UJA-Federation, traveled to New Orleans, where they donated food and clothing and helped clean up the ravages of the storm.
“We want to expand our domestic missions not just for emergency and urgent needs, but to have our donors experience different federations, different ways of doing things, and different communities — and to see that we are all connected,” said Susan Flanders, director of UJA-Federation’s overseas and domestic missions.
As part of the Women’s Volunteer Mission, participants worked with Habitat for Humanity of Providence in building a home; donated kosher food to the First Kosher Food Pantry of Rhode Island; helped distribute food packages through The Church of St. Michael the Archangel Food Pantry; and volunteered at Top Drawer Art Center, a nonprofit organization that provides art programs for adults with developmental disabilities. In addition, the group lent a helping hand in the flower and vegetable garden at the Norman Bird Sanctuary, a large open space on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, Rhode Island, that provides vegetables for a local food pantry.
On the cultural front, the group met with the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island to learn about the community’s Jewish life and toured the landmark Touro Synagogue in Newport, which was built in 1759 and serves as an enduring symbol of religious freedom for all Americans.
“The mission was a gift on so many levels — to the people of Rhode Island; the recipients of our labor; to our children, who learned the importance of helping others, not just from our words but our deeds; and to ourselves,” says Ms. Katz. “Through our hard work and shared commitment to making the world a better place, we formed friendships and had experiences that will last a lifetime.”
The world’s largest local philanthropy, UJA-Federation of New York strengthens community and helps 1.4 million people in New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island, as well as 3 million in Israel and more than 60 other countries. Funds raised by UJA-Federation sustain the activities of more than 100 health, human-service, educational, and community agencies. Every day, these community-based organizations provide a multitude of services that improve and enhance people’s lives. For more information, visit UJA-Federation’s website at www.ujafedny.org.