As the days of the Covid-19 crisis continued to mount, Alla, a working mother of four children ages 2 to 12, knew she needed to do something to help her community
“I couldn’t bear sitting at home, even though I was surrounded by my kids and husband. I knew some people were completely alone and afraid,” Alla says. “I thought about who is the most frail, the most vulnerable. And I realized how difficult it must be for elderly Holocaust survivors who were afraid to go outside, who were lonely.”
Alla decided she needed to act, and she wanted her children to join her.
“I wanted to teach my kids the power of a mitzvah and this is how it all started,” she says. “To think of your neighbor during hard times.”
So working together with the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst, a UJA partner, the whole family went all out to help Holocaust survivors in their local Brooklyn neighborhood.
“I asked my kids what they thought we could do, and my younger daughter, Rachel, who is 7, said we could make a video and say Holocaust survivors needed help,” Alla explains.
In April, the family made and shared the video on social media. By May, they had raised enough money to bring kosher catered Shabbat meals to Holocaust survivors. The family also wanted to add a personal touch to each meal they delivered. Her kids once again pitched in to offer their special sparkle. They made and decorated homemade cards.
“I felt people will know we personally made this and see we cared about them.” says Shanna, who is 12 and Alla’s older daughter. “I liked drawing lots of hearts and a picture of people in a circle with the message, ‘You’re part of our community, we remember you.’”
The family worked diligently to pack bags to meet their Friday noon delivery deadline. Along with the cards, the Shabbat package included challah, grape juice, and a hot meal.
“I liked giving out the packages filled with food,” says Joseph, Alla’s 12-year-old son. “I knew the packages were going to someone who needs it.”
The family took precautions with deliveries and wore masks, used hand sanitizer, and left food at the door to limit contact with survivors. Soon, teens from Marks JCH were also volunteering to make deliveries, and more families became involved. From May through July, Shabbat packages were distributed every Friday to nearly 90 households with Holocaust survivors.
“It gave us a sense of purpose,” Alla says.
Now eight months into the crisis, she reflects on the project her family helped create. “I didn’t know how this would turn out, and then so many people contributed,” Alla notes. “When I saw the survivors’ faces, and saw how grateful they were that someone remembered them, I understood I’d never done something that was so heartfelt before.”
For Evegeniya, 84, a widow and Holocaust survivor, the warm meals she received from the volunteers also offered a warm and welcome connection.
“I volunteered with JCH after I retired as an accountant, and it’s been like my second home. But I never felt the ties more acutely than during the pandemic and a quarantine when I had no one. My daughter lives abroad,” Evegeniya says. “During this time of isolation, I knew I could ask for help and support when everything else felt unreliable.”
Volunteerism has become a lifeline to so many during this Covid-19 crisis. To help our partners continue with great volunteer projects, UJA is providing additional funding. Learn more about how you can join us in this vital work.
Update: UJA typically budgets approximately $20 million annually to the 22 JCCs located across the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. Since March when the Covid crisis began and placed restrictions on JCCs, we’ve allocated an additional $14.3 million in a combination of grants and interest-free loans to help sustain JCCs.