Addressing unmet needs of low-income families

The nice thing about goods deeds is that sometimes they evolve into something larger than one’s self. 

Congregation Achduth Vesholom, a Reform Jewish synagogue at 5200 Old Mill Road, also known as The Temple, has experienced this firsthand.

Their Thoughtful Thursdays program is an example of what can happen when collaboration, philanthropy, and community impact intersect.

In a way, it all started in 2010 with boxed macaroni and cheese.

Temple congregant Jamie Berger was sorting macaroni and cheese for an on-site food drive when a mother of a child in Brightpoint’s Head Start program operated at the Temple approached her. Thoughtful Thursdays seek to fill gaps in traditional programs for low-income residents.

Head Start provides comprehensive educational, health, nutritional, and other developmental social services to low-income and special needs preschool children and their families.

The Head Start mother told Berger that although they greatly appreciated food donations, she and other low-income families had difficulty paying for basic needs like toilet paper.

That was Berger’s ‘aha moment.’ She saw a larger need and decided to address it.

“And that’s how Thoughtful Thursdays got started,” she says.

The concept was simple, yet impactful. The Temple would provide monthly or twice-monthly bags with groceries and educational items. The bags would be sent home with the Head Start students on a Thursday to be returned the following Monday and be refilled.

According to Berger, Thoughtful Thursdays committee co-chair, it started as a grassroots program at the Temple to address unmet needs within the Head Start families there, but it evolved into more.  

Today, the initiative is a collaborative effort financially supported by the Temple, the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, and Congregation B’nai Jacob.

“People seemed to really relate to the program,” she says. “I’ve been lucky in that people are willing to step up and help.”

When Berger learned through her contact at Head Start that students were coming to school in the winter improperly dressed for the cold weather, she put her connections to work, and the Temple community delivered once again.

“We got 72 brand new winter coats and donated enough hats and gloves to provide for both home and school,” she says.

According to Mary Lee Freeze, Brightpoint’s VP of Early Childhood Services, volunteers have gone above and beyond when it comes to helping.

“Not only do they put bags together for each family at the site, they even asked parents what things could be most useful to them and incorporate those ideas into what they put into the bags that go home,” she says. “This has been a program that started several years back and continues each year to bless our Brightpoint Head Start parents and families.”

Deb Vilensky, Jamie Berger, and Fran Adler pack a box for Head Start families.

In general, Berger says more than seven years later, the momentum and energy behind the Thoughtful Thursdays program is still palpable.

“It has been such an overwhelming response,” she says. “It just has grown so much.”

That growth has occurred on multiple levels.

For example, Girl Scout troops, Key Clubs, local businesses, and college students assist.

The program receives financial support from the Dr. Harry W. Salon Foundation, in addition to individuals and groups.

Volunteers from the Temple and these groups assist with everything from making monetary donations, to purchasing items and bag assembling.

Through it all, the common motivation is compassion.

“I think most people feel good about helping those who can’t help themselves,” Berger says. “It’s really important that it’s a hand up, not a hand out.”

Volunteers from left to right, Micki Keeps, Deb Vilensky, Kay Safirstein, Beth Zweig, Chris Riley, Fran Adler, Bonnie Pomerantz, Jaki Schreier, Laura Zweig, and Jamie Berger.

For Jewish volunteers, specifically, the drive can be a moral one—tikkun olam.

This is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.

To that end, Jews are often involved in social action and volunteer projects, motivated by the concept.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism created an award inspired by the community responsibility demonstrated in the Thoughtful Thursdays program and its relationship to tikkun olam

In 2013, Thoughtful Thursdays was the winner of this Irving J. Fain Social Action Award, and in a public statement, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner who directs the Center explains why.

“Their work is an inspiring reminder of the power that congregations have to make an impact,” Dov Pesner says.

Donate

Donations to the Thoughtful Thursdays program can be made to “CAV-The Temple," with “Thoughtful Thursdays” written on the memo line.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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