ELP Thanksgiving Volunteers Serve Seniors rss
Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, often travelling long distances to share good food and good company. Though seniors from all five boroughs come to the Sirovich Center in Lower Manhattan, many of them only have to walk a few blocks to reach the warm, familial environment the center offers.
On November 20th, 100 Thanksgiving volunteers from UJA-Federation of New York’s Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists (ELP) formed the youngest generation of this extended “family” at the center, as they prepared breakfast, lunch, and to-go care packages for over 400 seniors. Even more important than the bagels and schmeer, and later the turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie that they served, the Thanksgiving volunteers provided conversation and companionship.
“Volunteerism is one of the most important Jewish values,” says David Rothman, one of the ELP chairs for the event, and he sees the ELP turnout as a reflection of people’s values. “To give back without asking for anything in return and to see your work have meaning for someone who needs it is an amazing feeling.”
“A meal is a sense of community. It’s an opportunity for socialization,” explains Amy Stollmack, Volunteer Director at the Educational Alliance, one of UJA-Federation’s beneficiary agencies, which runs the Sirovich Center.
Dancing Up a Storm
At the beginning of the day, the Thanksgiving volunteers and the seniors were a bit shy and uncertain, congregating at opposite ends of the main auditorium. But within minutes, their hesitance evaporated and dozens of intergenerational conversations blossomed. Between breakfast and lunch, the auditorium became a spirited dance party, with young and old dancing together in a conga line as a purple-suited emcee egged them on.
But if the liveliness of the dancing surprised some people, the organizers of the event had an even more pleasant surprise while planning the day: the speed with which the Thanksgiving volunteers clamored for the 100 available spots. “It has truly blown me away how quickly we were able to fill this event,” says Shanna Weinblatt, another chair of the event. “You always hope that everyone wants to give back as much as you do, but when you see it happen before your eyes, it’s powerful.”
On top of the Jewish value of helping, Harron Zimmerman, also an event chair, attributed the Thanksgiving volunteers’ enthusiasm to the season, saying, “Thanksgiving always brings out the best in people.”
Christine Montero has been coming to the center for nine years, and while she is a member, she is also a volunteer, often working at the center’s front desk. She says she sees a lot of the same people returning to the center again and again and she tries to play a part in that. “You see a smiling face welcoming you into the center, you’re going to come back.”
And as the seniors trickled out into the afternoon sunlight, there was certainly no shortage of smiling faces.