Undeterred by icy sleet, around 370 volunteers turned up at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey on Tuesday, Dec. 2, for the giant Challah Bake. Organizers said there were so many people eager to participate, they had to turn some away.
The event, timed to coincide with Giving Tuesday drew participants from 48 agencies, organizations, synagogues, and schools, brought together under the auspices of the Center for Volunteerism of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
They worked in shifts from 8:45 a.m. to 8 p.m., in a room kashered specially for the event. Rolling out segments of dough cut from the cool white mounds prepared by the West Orange Bake Shop, the volunteers braided, baked, and bagged around 800 glistening, golden-brown loaves.
They will all be delivered by Friday to needy clients of Jewish Family Services of MetroWest and Central NJ — beneficiary agencies of the federation — and kosher food pantries partnered with the FoodBank.
Federation activist Joanie Schwarz, who cochaired the event with Felice Flitt, said they came up with the idea as a new outlet for the community spirit sparked in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when volunteers from Greater MetroWest headed to Union Beach to help residents reclaim their lives. “The fund-raising that federation does is very important, but people really liked having a hands-on way to help those in need in a very concrete way,” Schwarz said.
She and her fellow organizers decided to bring that drive to Giving Tuesday, the nondenominational and now international philanthropic effort started in 2012. The brainchild of Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, it was intended as a counterpoint to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the rest of the holiday season.
“We decided to have our Giving Tuesday event at the FoodBank to raise awareness of hunger in the community,” Schwarz said.
It was a new experience for many of the volunteers. Though reliant on a walker, Sandra Newman of Livingston, who has been a federation volunteer for 47 years, came with her home aide, Farida Brewster, and the two of them happily braided loaf after loaf. “It’s special being here, getting to know new people and working together for those who need this help,” Newman said. “The Jewish people always come to the forefront for those in need.”
The FoodBank’s executive chef, Paul Kapner, helped coordinate with the federation volunteers and saw to the kashering process of the work area and ovens. Kathleen DiChiara, the president and CEO, welcomed the bakers.
Hundreds of organizations and corporations around the world now take part in Giving Tuesday; last year’s total raised was up 270 percent over the first year, and Timms said he is expecting even more this year because of grassroots enthusiasm and the support from newspapers and broadcast media across the United States.