If anyone had put some money aside “for a rainy day,” this past Sunday, Dec. 12, was a great time to give it to a good cause. Volunteers calling on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s 2011 annual campaign were asking donors to do just that and they responded generously.
Super Sunday — the mega-phonathon that is the federation’s largest fund-raising event of the year — pulled in $524,257, almost $100,000 more than last year, with $1,512 raised for Israel Emergency Fire Relief. That figure was set to rise during Super Week, with volunteers scheduled to make calls on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.
At the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, around 500 people —including a lineup of political and civic leaders — gathered to support the cause, along with their children.
That the weather was decidedly wet seemed to be on their side. Don Rosenthal of Westfield, the federation’s chair of financial resource development, said, “I think more people than usual were answering their phones — maybe because the rain kept them at home.”
Despite this assessment, callers were frustrated by the number of answering machines they encountered, and by the unusually high number of those who did answer saying they couldn’t give this year because of financial hardship. Callers took the names and contact information for a few dozen people who said they could benefit from help from the federation or one of its beneficiary agencies, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey.
But by all accounts, a spirit of generosity prevailed. By early afternoon, the totals were running higher than last year’s — just over $273,000, compared to $248,000 in 2009. Rosenthal said, “I think fewer people are giving, but those who are giving are giving more than before.”
A lot of young people took to the phones. “Wouldn’t you find it harder to say ‘no’ to a 14-year-old than a 60-year-old?” asked a woman closer to the latter age. The teens themselves, who are supposed to be in ninth grade or above to make calls, said they were having a hard time too, but some were sympathetic to the plight of those who did not make a pledge.
“I don’t like putting down ‘refused,’” one boy said, as he filled in his call response slip. “It’s not that they were refusing to give; they just can’t.”
Volunteer caller Aida Gold said she was making her pitch as brief as possible while trying to let potential donors know how their contributions help the needy. “I think it makes them more willing to give if they know what their money is used for,” Gold said.
The eagerness to help was in evidence all over the building. Terry Willnow-Tainow, JFS’s volunteer coordinator, said there were more helpers than there was work to give them. “We packed up 140 boxes for the kosher food pantry,” she said. “I wish we’d had more supplies for them to pack.”
A nurse from JFS, Rochelle Brodsky, was conducting blood pressure screenings for visitors to the campus. Many of those “patients” went on to give blood at the donor station in the basement — 25 productive units, enough, according to the appreciative American Red Cross representative, to help save 75 lives.
People were also registering as possible marrow donors with the Gift of Life Foundation.
For those new to the work of the federation and its partner agencies, there was plenty of opportunity to learn. Information tables run by volunteers and staff members offered materials on local synagogues, schools, and organizations like the JCC of Central New Jersey, also on the Wilf campus, and the YM-YWHA of Union County. Jan Kulik, who was handing out information about Temple Har Shalom, the Reform congregation in Warren, said she wished she had brought her therapy dog, a miniature dachshund, to draw even more people to her table.
Kids gathered to bake hallah in the JCC kitchens, or tie-dye T-shirts and socks in a room across the hall. Others played games on a giant map of Israel, led by Israeli emissary Abir Maliyanker and assisted by Shaked Angel, Rachel Karpf, and Avia Agababa of Hashomer Hatzair, the Israeli-based progressive youth organization.
Some wore giant balloon hats concocted for them by Bruce Zakarin, or had elaborate animal designs painted on their faces.
Another room was filled to capacity with children and their parents watching clown and juggler Looney Louie, who had the kids screaming with glee.
While most of the people milling around the building had smiles on their faces, event cochairs Lisa Israel and Ellen Zimmerman appeared serious. They were taking care of one issue after another, making sure that volunteers found their posts and children found the entertainment they had been promised.
They acknowledged what everyone was telling them — that everything was going smoothly, but said they would feel a whole lot easier come Monday. They did light up during the day though, as they announced pledge totals that reflected an increase in gift amounts.
Meredith Levy, who was co-vice-chair with Elizabeth Isser, smiled ruefully when she heard that; next year, she said, she and Isser will be the ones in the hot seat.