Rachel Reibach, a junior at Washington and Lee University, was home visiting her family for winter break following a challenging semester, but rather than sleeping in on Dec. 25, she headed to the South Hills Jewish Community Center to do something for others.
“I think we all have this time off, and we need to do something worthwhile,” Reibach said as she assembled bags for Beverly’s Birthdays, a local nonprofit that provides birthday celebrations for homeless children. “I’ve been sleeping enough; I wanted to help the community.”
Beverly’s Birthdays was just one of scores of agencies served by volunteers on Mitzvah Day, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh that actually took place on two days — Friday, Dec. 23, as well as Sunday, Dec. 25.
About 1,200 volunteers, old and young alike, turned out to more than 115 locations across the community, donating their time to a plethora of causes including making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for children living in homes facing food insecurity, to helping out at senior living facilities, to serving meals at shelters for the homeless.
This was Mitzvah Day’s 16th year, giving Jewish Pittsburgh the opportunity to collectively contribute key services in agencies at a time when much of the regular and volunteer staff are off for the holiday.
“I’m here because of my desire to give back to this wonderful community, a community that’s been very good to me and given me and my family a wonderful place to live,” Ira Ungar said as he packed birthday bags alongside Reibach.
Volunteers ranging in age from 10 months to 100 years took part in the event, according to Amy Cohen, the manager of the Federation’s Volunteer Center, which coordinated the project.
This was the second year in a row that Mitzvah Day was a two-day event, Cohen said, providing more volunteers additional opportunities to help out the community. The event will continue to be a “two-day extravaganza of giving back to the community,” she added.
Volunteer sites were located throughout Allegheny County and beyond, reaching as far north as Kittanning, where people delivered presents for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and as far south as Canonsburg at the Greenery Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. New projects, including those for the National Aviary and No Crayon Left Behind (which collects abandoned crayons at restaurants and gives them to organizations that serve underprivileged children), were added to the list of established offerings, keeping Mitzvah Day “fresh,” Cohen said.
On Dec. 25, the South Hills Jewish Community Center was bustling with more than 70 volunteers engaging in five separate activities including writing notes to place in the pockets of clothing to be worn by women headed to job interviews, and coloring pictures and writing positive messages to senior citizens and troops overseas.
Members of the Krawczyk family, who were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, were happy to participate.
“We decided it would be nice to help others during the holidays and not just think about ourselves,” said Michele Krawczyk.
Mitzvah Day volunteers cumulatively provided more than 3,000 hours of service over the course of the two-day event, according to information provided by the Federation.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.