Usually, during the annual Day of Service, over 200 participants show up to help. Last year, the volunteers, aged 3 to 90, gathered at the Plummer House in Salem, an organization that supports North Shore foster children and teens, to paint murals, build tables and cook meals.
The event, organized by the Jewish Teen Initiative and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, still took place, albeit in a modified format. Because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the program was slated to be canceled this year. But JTI decided to come up with a plan to run the program remotely. “What came about was their asking us if we could compile care packages for teens who are in their OnPoint program, which is a juvenile diversionary program for kids who have had minor brushes with the law,” said Dana Roth, senior program director at JTI.
The participants put together care packages that included blankets, snacks and candy, Netflix gift cards, toiletries, adult coloring books and handwritten notes of support. “We did all different things that kind of touch on different ways people are seeking comfort,” Roth said. “They’re not able to have their afterschool programming. They are at a loss in a similar way to many of us, and so this was an opportunity to bring some light, boost the morale and also do some good; get involved in a different kind of way.”
The participating teens also made no-sew masks out of T-shirts for the OnPoint program and wrote cards for residents of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare in Peabody. In total, the teens assembled 25 care packages, about 50 masks, and wrote around 20 cards for Chelsea Lifecare.
The program, which took place on April 23 via Zoom video conference, began with some Jewish teachings from CJP’s President Rabbi Marc Baker and others. “The work that we are doing is importantly tied to our Jewish values, and so we try to communicate that really explicitly throughout the program, so that it’s really showing the impact that our program has,” Roth said.
Then the participants used Zoom’s “breakout room” function to split into virtual groups to assemble their projects together: one for mask making, one for care package assembly, and one for card writing. Roth had previously assembled the materials to drop off at participants’ homes. The next morning, she picked them back up, along with other volunteers, to distribute to the Plummer House and Chelsea Lifecare.
James Dicker, 14, an eighth grader at Swampscott Middle School, participated in the care package group, and emphasized that the items in the packages were meant to make their recipients in foster care feel safe and cared for. His sister, Judy, a 15-year-old sophomore at Swampscott High School, agreed. “They didn’t really get any of that stuff that was normal for people who are with their families right now, they’re not really getting the things that they need,” she said. “We [also] wrote them letters to make them feel like there were people there for them.”
Sofia Vatnick, 16, a sophomore at Marblehead High School, was grateful the program went forward, even in its modified format. “I think it made it honestly a bit more special because we’re all going through this pandemic right now, and to be together during a time like this was, in my opinion, one of the biggest mitzvahs,” she said. “We were supporting each other, but at the same time, we knew we were doing something good because we were helping other people who are also in need.”