With safety protocols in place, a decades-old program is set to bring Pittsburghers back together. On Dec. 26, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is hosting Mitzvah Day. The annual event, which began in 2000, enables hundreds of volunteers to aid multiple organizations throughout the area.
David Chudnow, Federation’s Volunteer Center manager, said he’s eager to connect with new participants, as well as welcome back longtime volunteers.
So much of Mitzvah Day is about “forming relationships,” Chudnow said, and whereas there’s great value in people growing closer through service, it’s also essential to create bonds between organizations.
Through the Federation-hosted program, Mitzvah Day volunteers will help nearly 30 nearby organizations.
Chudnow cited Auberle, a McKeesport-based Catholic group, as one of Federation’s longtime partners and among 32 places where volunteers can perform in-person service.
Whether at Auberle — where volunteers will help prepare brunch for guests of an emergency shelter — or at the South Hills Jewish Community Center — where participants will partner with Color A Smile, a nonproft that distributes uplifting drawings to nursing homes, hospitals and elsewhere — Mitzvah Day participants will be required to adhere to strict masking and vaccination guidelines.
“We know the importance of Mitzvah Day but we want to be cautious and make sure everyone coming to each project has proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test,” Chudnow said.
Those unable to meet vaccination or masking requirements, or who wish to volunteer remotely, can still join this year’s Mitzvah Day. Chudnow pointed to four opportunities where participants can offer help from home. Volunteers can help Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh and Morgantown by purchasing necessary supplies and assembling “welcome bags” for those staying in the house.
Participants can also work with Global Links, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit dedicated to improving health in communities with need. Volunteers can purchase supplies, assembling anassortment of personal care products for distribution to those in need.
With the pandemic still dictating get-togethers and activities, there’s an intentionality surrounding this year’s Mitzvah Day, Chudnow said. As opposed to past years, where sites like the Squirrel Hill JCC were packed with volunteers, Federation is ensuring these spaces have fewer participants and allow for more distancing.
Chudnow said he still expects hundreds of people to participate in Mitzvah Day this year, even though many sites are designed to welcome only 3-4 volunteers.
Where he’d like to see a large turnout, in safe measure, is at the JCC. In both South Hills and Squirrel Hill there will be opportunities for participants to give blood at the JCC on Dec. 26.
“Last year’s Mitzvah Day blood drives got national recognition from Vitalint for being so successful,” Chudnow said. “I would love to repeat that.”
Federation president and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein is excited about this year’s Mitzvah Day and said there’s something to cherish about the upcoming program.
“This year, Mitzvah Day takes on special meaning because we have been unable to bring Jewish Pittsburgh together in large numbers for such a long time,” Finkelstein said. “I’m so pleased and honored that Jewish Federation can provide this opportunity to help.”
Chudnow agreed and said information about volunteering for Mitzvah Day, as well as registration, can be found at https://jewishpgh.org/mitzvah-day. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.