Even the youngest members of the community turned out to lend a helping hand to women in need.
At a March 21 event held simultaneously in two locations in Essex and Morris counties, children and their parents — a total of some 70 families — gathered to pack purses with necessary items to be distributed to, among others, clients receiving counseling through the Rachel Coalition and those awaiting restraining orders against abusive partners in Newark Family Court.
At the Woodland Center in Maplewood, long tables held an array of toiletries, from soap and toothpaste to shampoo and conditioners, along with healthy snacks, like raisins and granola bars. On another table was a pile of purses that had been donated by community members. During the course of the afternoon, young children trooped in with their parents. Each of the 25 families who arrived grabbed a purse and “shopped” at the tables, placing specified items inside the bags. The filled purses were donated to the Rachel Coalition, a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ, which provides assistance and support to victims of domestic violence; Career Closet of National Council of Jewish Women/Essex County Section, which offers attire and accessories appropriate for the workplace to displaced women at no cost; and Family Promise Morris County, which fights homelessness with services to help people become self-sufficient.
At the same time, more than 40 families came to the County College of Morris in Randolph to pack their own passel of purses.
Among the packers at the Woodland Center was eight-year-old Shaya Zorel of South Orange, who accompanied her mother, Rachel, and six-year-old sister, Ami. A student at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, Shaya said, “I’m packing a purse for people in need. Here’s soap, so they don’t get sick.”
Arlene Jacobi’s children, Alexandra, seven; Keira, five; and Emma, two, were engrossed at one table, choosing the snacks for their purses. Jacobi, of Maplewood, eying her threesome, said, “We came for the opportunity to do a mitzva.”
The event offered the opportunity not only for doing good deeds, but also to learn about Purim, which took place just a few days afterward, and to lower the barriers to participation in Jewish community programs.
The events were intentionally held at sites commonly used for public events, rather than at a synagogue or JCC. “It is a way to increase connections in the Jewish communities,” said the federation’s director of community outreach and engagement, Amy Biloon, who was one of the event organizers. “Some people are hesitant about coming into ‘Jewish’ spaces,” said Biloon, who added that the purses and toiletries were donated by community members in advance, which allowed people to feel connected even if they could not attend the packing event.
Before they finished, children stopped by a table set up by the federation’s Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life to create masks for Purim and to learn about different facets of the holiday, including the mitzva of matanot l’evyonim, giving gifts to those in need.