ANDOVER – Yahli Irelander stood on the bimah at Temple Emanuel in Andover on her bat mitzvah reciting Parshah Nasso last month. While it was a satisfying achievement, the shy, artistic 13-year-old said it didn’t compare to how she felt about raising money to feed hungry children.
“When I was in art class, my teacher talked about the ‘End 68 Hours of Hunger’ program. She was doing a fundraiser for one of the chapters,” said Yahli, the daughter of Idan and Einat Irelander of Temple Emanuel. Idan and Einat are natives of Israel, and Idan serves as the temple’s cantor.
Art teacher Mary Preble explained to Yahli that many children who receive free breakfasts and lunches during the school week often go hungry on weekends. There is a period from school lunch on Friday until school breakfast on Monday – 68 hours – that many youngsters don’t get enough to eat.
The Irelanders, who live in Salem, N.H., learned there were 85 children in their city who receive food donations through the program. That was about the same number of friends Yahli had invited to her bat mitzvah.
“Something clicked,” said Einat. By devoting her mitzvah project to raising money for End 68 Hours of Hunger, “Yahli could make sure that not only her friends would be happy that weekend, but other children would be as well.”
Yahli decided to raise money by engaging in her passion: art. Her family bought 150 mini-canvases and Yahli got to work creating images in pen and ink, pastels, watercolors and colored pencils. One of her friends helped her with some drawings; another friend helped her sell her canvases for $10 each.
“I love painting and helping people who have less than us. I think that’s probably better than just being on a stage,” Yahli said.
But Yahli did take to the stage during two temple gatherings to tell the congregation what she was doing, invite them to look at her paintings and consider buying them. The funds would be donated to End 68 Hours of Hunger.
Yahli was hoping to raise $850, which would feed 85 children over the weekend of her bat mitzvah.
“She raised $1,000. That’s enough to feed 100 kids in need and she is hoping to continue the effort in the future,” said Idan.
When Yahli presented the $1,000 check to Salem Assistant Superintendent Debbie Payne, Payne praised her for her “extraordinary thoughtfulness and generosity.”
Volunteers with the Salem, N.H. nonprofit program do food shopping, fundraising, and promotions. The Salem School Key Club packs bags each week for the 85 children who will receive the food.
Students from Kindness Matters, a community service club at Salem High sort the food along with Salem School District staff and retirees. Saints Mary and Joseph Parish, Rockingham Community Church, and CenterPoint Community Church, all located in Salem, N.H., have volunteered a number of hours and made significant program donations as well.
End 68 Hours of Hunger started in Dover, N.H. in 2014 and has since spread out to six other states. New Hampshire has by far the greatest reach, with 34 programs around the state. Massachusetts has programs in Dracut and Wilmington.
“I’m so proud of her,” said Einat. “She took something personal – her art – and transformed it into feeding other kids.” She added that Yahli’s Torah portion, Nasso, is about “inner and outer happiness” and by engaging in fulfilling activities, “God will lift his face upon you.”