A Different Education



The Maryland School for the Blind and Maryland School for the Deaf both provide opportunities for those interested in donating their time, energy or financial assistance to worthy causes.

Located in Nottingham, touching (physically and metaphorically) both Baltimore County and Baltimore City, MSB is “one of the best schools for the blind in the country,” according to Michael Bina, who has been president of the school for eight years.

“Baltimore is rich in talent,” Bina said about those who might be interested in or have in the past volunteered at MSB.

“One of the reasons Baltimore is such a caring, giving community is the spirit we have of being a big city without being impersonal. Our human resource department accepts applications for volunteers, and we look at the [potential candidate’s] particular skill sets and interests.”

Being a residential school providing services to 200 on-site students as well as having an outreach program serving 1,300 students throughout the state, MSB grants volunteer opportunities to those willing to come to the campus itself as well as those wishing to work with the organization in closer proximity to their own community where the MSB is represented.

“Our kids benefit from diversity, people coming in from different backgrounds,” Bina said. “It’s the whole idea of people learning about different cultures, religions and languages.”

Though Bina said, “We don’t do the drives or capital campaigns or things like that,” he added that interested parties can look into volunteering for specialized weekend and summer programs — be they, say, sports or theatrical performances organized by the school — along with donating funds to the school’s website: marylandschoolfortheblind.org.



Bina also went so far as to offer up his email for any person wishing to learn more, adding, “The door is always open.”

That email address is michaelb@mdschblind.org.

For Bina, this is all a matter of “investing in community responsibility.”

The Maryland School for the Deaf, meanwhile, is ramping up “celebrations for its 150th year from August 2017,” according to an email from program coordinator Sarah-Jane Flook.

“What we would most value from [JT] readers would be their participation as players or sponsors at our annual golf tournament, which will likely take place in September 2017,” Flook continued.

“Similarly, we would welcome their participation in our Annual Giving Campaign, which will continue until June 30, 2017.”

Flook said that this year’s campaign concentration will be “the provision of Chromebooks for use by middle and high school students of the school.”

Donations can be sent to MSDF, P.O. Box 636, Frederick, MD 21705. Donations can also be submitted via PayPal (details available at MSD-Foundation.org).

Other opportunities for volunteering at or donating to the school include joining the MSD board, which meets five times a year (for more information, contact Flook at sarah@msd-foundation.org or 301-712-8921).


Bmore Gives More

Screenshot of The Associated’s #GivingTuesday page

Screenshot of The Associated’s #GivingTuesday page

The first year that The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore took part in #GivingTuesday, the organization raised more than $1 million, gaining notoriety as the most charitable nonprofit in the United States to take part in the event.

The second year that #GivingTuesday was celebrated, The Associated joined forces with other local nonprofits to earn Baltimore the title as the most giving city in the country. The philanthropic event still continues to grow, significantly contributing to Maryland being named the nation’s most giving state in 2014.

Initially established by New York’s 92nd St. Y and the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday is “national day to enlighten people and put in people’s minds the beauty of giving,” said Linda Hurwitz, chair of The Associated’s board.

The local effort began with a catchy call to arms, Bmore Gives More. Falling on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the idea is to embrace the spirit of holiday giving and channel the gift-getting flurry of Black Friday and Cyber Monday into a humanitarian effort.

“We are all thinking about buying gifts, and it is an opportunity to give back to the community and local organizations,” said Hurwitz. “Each of us represent all citizens of Baltimore, all residents of Maryland. It is not just about the giving of money, it is about the giving spirit.”

The primary local philanthropy taking place on #GivingTuesday is the phone- a-thon in which volunteers will call members of the community and raise money to provide “food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, protection for the vulnerable, a positive Jewish identity,” according to The Associated’s donation page.

Both The Associated in Baltimore and the Jewish Federation of Howard County will be running phone-a-thons. For the first time this year, Howard County will also have an online fundraising campaign page. The website will reflect online and phone donations in real time.

“#GivingTuesday is primarily fueled by social media,” said Hanni Werner, marketing and communications associate for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. “Getting people more involved in social media is one of our huge goals. We want to be able to have our constituents share our media to expand our reach.”

The hope is that if members of the community share the event with their friends, it will add “a name and face to the campaign,” Werner explained.

“We are asking people to do three things,” she said. “First, if they want to help, volunteer making calls. Second is to donate online. And third, share the event on social media to help get word out about the event.”

Funds raised through the phone-a-thons will be donated to both local and international humanitarian causes, many of which support Israel and emphasize #GivingTuesday’s mission: “It’s all about building a Jewish future and supporting those in need within our communities,” Werner said.

For members of the community who want to help get involved, both The Associated and the Jewish Federation of Howard County need volunteers to answer phones throughout the day as well as post about #GivingTuesday and share the event and donation pages with friends.

“The phone-a-thon is indicative of the work The Associated does,” said Hurwitz. “We are cutting edge, involved in the community and have donors and trustees who know the important work that we are doing and want to contribute to something with real value and do it with Jewish ethics.”

“Everyone deserves dignity and basic needs,” she added. “Caring for the less fortunate is just who we are. We understand that people want to put their money where their hearts are. This is just one more opportunity for one Jew to help another.”

For more information on the #GivingTuesday campaigns, visit bit.ly/2fjn20F and bit.ly/2f0pptP.


Repairing the World Through Synagogues


In the spirit of giving during the holiday season, local synagogues offer a variety of programs and initiatives so that Jewish individuals and families can give back to their communities and participate in mitzvot. From mitzvah projects to cleanup efforts to feeding needy families, congregations offer members a number of ways to give back.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation offers the social justice-themed Gemilut Hasadim program, which is founded on the Jewish imperative of repairing of the world. The organization helps members bring a Jewish perspective to the search for social justice and to provide positions of service and leadership in the larger Jewish and general communities. Any individual can participate in the group’s activities.

The group’s first initiative of the holiday season is its Adopt-A-Road event in collaboration with the Chizuk Amuno Brotherhood on Dec. 4 at 9 a.m. The group will perform the mitzvah of shmirat adamah, protecting the earth, by cleaning a segment of Greenspring Avenue.

Members can also take part in a program through the Ronald McDonald House. On Dec. 21 at 4 p.m., community members will have the opportunity to cook and serve dinners for families with seriously ill children. “The families look forward to home-cooked meals to ease the strain and pressure that come with seeking medical treatment far from home,” the event release says.

“It is our obligation to do what Isaiah says and play a role in trying to overcome these injustices that have been ingrained for many years,” said Cheryl Snyderman, director of Gemilut Hasadim and member engagement. “It is our duty to inform about social justice. We have the [best] opportunity to create a real impact within our own community.”

Weekend Backpacks, an ongoing project through Temple Oheb Shalom, assembles “backpacks” to distribute to inner city schools for their homeless and hungry children. According to an overview of the program, “there are over 3,000 homeless children in Baltimore City schools. Some live with extended family in cars, shelters or on the street. Many of these kids go hungry from lunchtime on Friday until they return to school on Monday.”

Each backpack has enough food to feed four people for the weekend. The next opportunities to help prepare these backpacks will be on Dec. 11 and Jan. 8 at noon.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation also has its share of community outreach programs. On Dec. 11 and 12, BT Brotherhood and Mercaz are respectively having cooking events, the meals from which will be donated to needy families through CHANA.

During Chanukah, there is a group known as the BT Puppeteers who wrote a Chanukah puppet show and perform it at nursing homes to lighten the mood for residents.

Additionally, Jan. 15, will see the congregation hosting a one-day clothing drive.

Many congregations offer opportunities that are not exclusive to the holiday season as well.

Har Sinai and Beth Israel congregations collaborate on Operation Mitzvah Mission through Jewish Volunteer Connection. As a part of the program, sixth-graders from Har Sinai and Beth Israel meet together to volunteer monthly. At each meeting, students are introduced to a core value of Judaism that they will embody as a part of the day’s work.

“The kids really like it, and in the past several years, students have been able to count it as a mitzvah project for a b’nai mitzvah. They can all identify specific mitzvahs that they performed in the program that influenced them significantly,” said Jo-Ellen Unger, director of congregational learning at Har Sinai.

“For me, instead of opening a book to page 72 and reading about a mitzvah, I prefer having the opportunity to go out and enact it in the world,” she continued. “It is so much more educational, it means more to you. We talk a lot about tzedakah, but we don’t collect money anymore. We collect canned food for the crisis center instead, and kids will pick out what food to donate while shopping with parents. We have people bring unopened pasta to use as groggers for Purim, which we donate after. That way you can celebrate the holiday and people still benefit. You are living a mitzvot instead of just looking at it.”

Finally, Community Mitzvah Day, one of the community’s largest volunteer events, takes place on Dec. 25, which this year is the first day of Chanukah. According to its website, the event “engages more than 1,000 volunteers in a variety of service sites including shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, group homes for individuals with special needs, hospitals and community-based service projects at the JCCs and synagogues throughout the community.”

Opportunities as a part of the Community Mitzvah Day, anchored by Jewish Volunteer Connection, include making no-sew fleece blankets, knitting hats and scarves, collecting food, toy and clothing donations, writing and coloring holiday cards for members of the community and assembling care packages for less privileged members of the community, which will include homemade holiday greeting cards and winter essentials such as gloves.

Volunteering opportunities for Community Mitzvah Day can be found at jvcbaltimore.org/opportunities.


Doing the People’s Work



It’s the most wonderful time of year for nonprofits. After all, with Thanksgiving and Chanukah fast approaching, people are in the spirit of giving.

Although the holiday season has its advantages for giving, many local nonprofits fight year-round to address the community’s growing needs. No matter how high the bar is set for these charities, every gift and donation makes a difference.

Here are 10 organizations that continually campaign hard to keep their doors open throughout the year:

Baltimore Humane Society
Since its founding in 1927, the Baltimore Humane Society has strived to help unwanted and unprotected animals and address their suffering by providing a temporary home, a safe refuge and much-needed care. Until a permanent home is found for the animals it takes in, the organization relies on a network of dedicated volunteers and continuous donations to run the private shelter.

“If you are an animal lover, there is nothing more gratifying than helping homeless animals find a forever home,” said Andrew Levine, executive director and board member at the Baltimore Humane Society.

For more information, visit bmorehumane.org.

Digital Harbor Foundation
The Digital Harbor Foundation is devoted to developing learning, creativity and productivity for all children, serving more than 1,500 Baltimore City youths per year through after-school and summer programs. Money raised through its “pay-what-you-can model” goes toward programs that teach interactive electronics, 3-D printing, computer coding and Web development.

“[Digital Harbor Foundation’s] programs are accessible to everyone regardless of financial ability,” said Shawn Grimes, interim executive director of the foundation.

For more information, visit digitalharbor.org.

Sports Boosters of Maryland
In 1950, a group of Baltimore men used their loved of sports to help give back to children with the creation of Sports Boosters of Maryland. Today, the organization hosts bimonthly dinners and special events that honor the top names in local sports to bridge the budget gap many local youth sports leagues face.

“We have a lot of fun raising money to help kids,” said Ron Levine, executive director of Sports Boosters of Maryland.

For more information, visit sportsboosters.com.

Baltimore Child Abuse Center
The Baltimore Child Abuse Center gives victims of sexual child abuse and trauma an outlet for healing, hope and justice through comprehensive medical and mental health treatment. In addition to helping individuals and families recover from abuse, a main goal of the organization is to educate individuals on how to recognize, prevent and report suspicions of abuse to the proper authorities.

For more information, visit bcaci.org.

Sarah’s Hope at Hannah More
Under the St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore umbrella, Sarah’s Hope at Hannah More runs a 24-hour emergency shelter, provides case management and offers other support services for homeless women and children in Reisterstown. The objective of this nonprofit, which opened in 2012, is aimed at helping families get back on their feet and sustain long-term stability.

For more information, contact Vicki Snyder at vicks48@verizon.net.

Jewish Caring Network
Families feeling overwhelmed and alone in combating life-threatening, lifelong or serious illnesses can turn to the Jewish Caring Network, whose mission is to “touch lives and make a difference.” This nonprofit assesses each individual family’s needs, allowing board and staff members made up of doctors, rabbis and others to cater to their specific needs.

For more information, visit jewishcaringnetwork.org/j.

The Bridges Program
An organization that supports a high-quality music educational experience, the Bridges Program seeks to reach the underserved and at-risk youth in the city. To accomplish this, children are provided access to string and harp instruction at a beginner’s level, the use of other instruments and orchestra experiences without the burden of a financial commitment.

For more information, visit bridgesmusicbaltimore.org.

Art With a Heart
Bringing together people of all ages from all different backgrounds, Art with a Heart brings interactive visual art classes into school classrooms, community centers, permanent housing facilities, hospitals and senior housing facilities. Founded in 2000, this organization has swelled from four small classes per week to more than 11,000 annually across the community.

For more information, contact info@artwithaheart.net.

Jewish Abilities Alliance
Through Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance, individuals with disabilities and their families are provided a host of resources that promotes an environment to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of every member in the community. There are parent-to-parent networking opportunities, various event gatherings and support services made readily accessible to those interested in joining the program.

For more information, visit baltimore.jewishabilities.org.

Moveable Feast
With more than 3,300-plus volunteers, Moveable Feast has nurtured a strong support group to deliver healthy hot meals to people battling HIV and AIDS, cancer and other deathly diseases. In its 24-year existence, the organization has expanded to include medical transportation, culinary training, nutritional counseling and food service among other amenities.

For more information, visit mfeast.org.


Out for a Run

hot-chocolate-5kThe JCC of Greater Baltimore and Hadassah Greater Baltimore have cooked up a recipe for a truly tasty community outreach event that will get Baltimore’s heart pumping in more ways than one.

The partnering organizations’ 1st Annual Chanukah Hot Chocolate 5K will offer an opportunity to participants interested in helping two important causes as well as getting in some fun exercise … topped with a mug of scrumptious hot chocolate.

The fun run will take place at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 9 a.m., with check-in beginning at 7:30 a.m.

Proceeds from the event will benefit two separate charity organizations, represented by each partner respectively. The run benefits Hadassah’s Check It Out program, which works to educate young students about precautionary measures as regards testicular and breast cancer, as well as the JCC’s scholarships for teens who require financial assistance to attend Maccabi sporting activities.

“Currently, no one is offering anything like it in Baltimore,” Raychel Setless, director of fitness at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC who has been involved in the charity event she helped develop, said via email. “Because of that, we’ve been getting a lot of interest.”

Setless said that the idea for a hot chocolate-inspired charity race revolving around the Chanukah season came in part from a similar event she’d been a part of in Springfield, Mass., where she had been working at that city’s JCC.

“I have a deep connection with both fundraising causes for this event,” said Setless, a triplet who notes her twins and she are all avid runners, and one sister is heading down from Brooklyn to run in the forthcoming 5K.

“We made a bet when we were 12 years old about who would win the 70-plus category for our hometown 5K,” Setless said. “We talk smack about this every chance we get!”

Berstein, an Owings Mills resident who is co-chairing the race as the JCC representative, agrees with Setless that the Chanukah theme helps set their event apart from similar races due to the time of year it’s being held.

“Who knows the weather, but in the very likely event it’s cold, we’ll be right by your side at the finish line with a steaming cup of cocoa!” reads the race news release.

The hot chocolate will be provided by the JCC’s on-site kosher kitchen, Me Latte.

When asked why she volunteered to help develop the race, Goldstein replied quickly with a laugh, “Because I forgot to say no!”

In truth, Goldstein has children who have been involved in Macabbi and said she therefore understands the importance of fundraising for those who might need a little help in participating.

The other side of the event’s charitable impetus — Hadassah’s Check It Out program — is also a prime reason for Goldstein’s helping out.

“There’s been some breast cancer in the family,” she revealed.

President of the local Hadassah chapter and co-chair of the race Julie Bernstein said the organization’s Check It Out program (which is a localized satellite of the national entity) is “imperative” because of the alarming number of breast and testicular cancer diagnoses being seen in people of younger and younger ages.

Check It Out has volunteers going to high school and educating youths in how they can perform self-checks; a survivor of cancer also comes to speak and answer questions.

“A lot of these activities and programs are trying to reach out to the same people, so if we can form coalitions together, it’s only win-win for both sides.”
— Jane Goldstein, race co-chair

Bernstein recounted the story of one student who came home after Check It Out came to her school. The girl ended up discovering she had breast cancer but was able to catch it in time to become another success story.

“This is the first time we’re partnering with the JCC for the race, which is exciting,” said Bernstein.

Though this is the 1st Annual Chanukah Hot Chocolate 5K, Hadassah has been holding similar races for the past 18 years, previously without a partnering group.

“Every organization in the community has such wonderful causes and beliefs,” said Bernstein. “A lot of these activities and programs are trying to reach out to the same people, so if we can form coalitions together, it’s only win-win for both sides.

“It’s important in the Jewish community to foster relationships and coalitions together instead of pulling people in different directions.”

“I think it’s going to be a very successful race,” Goldstein predicted. “I don’t think we’re going to see huge numbers — it’s a community race — but we’re very pleased with our registration so far.”

The 1st Annual Chanukah Hot Chocolate 5K will take place on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 9 a.m. (check-in at 7:30 a.m.) at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. Register online at jcc.org/chanukah5k.


Flashback Amy Pollokoff

Insider_FlashbackAmy-YoungAmy Pollokoff, 55, vice president at the Fedder Corporation, grew up in Pikesville and was exposed to philanthropy from a young age, thanks to her parents, Ellen and Joel Fedder. They both constantly attended meetings because of their involvement in what is today known as The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Her father was also extremely active in the American Heart Association.

What was your first hands-on philanthropic endeavor?
I did a lot of volunteer work with USY, and I ended up becoming president of USY of the Eastern Seaboard region, We did a lot of activities; many were volunteer opportunities like packaging food for elderly Jewish seniors at the JCC and for Meals on Wheels.

How did your volunteer involvement continue?
After college and marriage (to Bob Pollokoff) I joined [The Associated’s two-year training in] Young Women’s Leadership and ended up being president of that too. That was really my entrée into working with The Associated.

Describe your involvement with The Associated.
In the mid-’90s, I became involved in the Girls Project with the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister League. It was a wonderful project that worked with teen girls in the community who needed support. And because I had two girls, that was very important to me, and I ended up becoming president of that as well.

Insider_Flashback_Amy-Pollokoff-BEach year I chair a program or event and four years ago I led a Heart-to-Heart Mission to Israel. I thought it was very important to expose people to Israel who had never been before. Israel is something I’m very passionate about as well. Then I became very involved in GEM, the Girls Empowerment Mission, an organization that Debbi Weinberg started. I was on the board for 10 years and a mentor for teen girls for five years. I just got off-board in spring 2015, but I’m still a mentor. I also did [The Associated] health care event with Patti Attman, and this year, I’m chair of a Dor L’Dor event over Purim; we’ll bake hamantaschen and bring in mothers and daughters of all ages.

Does Judaism play a part in your philanthropy?
I think it’s all about my Jewishness because the meaning of tzedakah is giving back, and I think it’s very important. I think whenever you give back and see something change people’s lives, it betters your life, and I think it’s our obligation as Jews to give back.


One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Social Enterprise Hungry Harvest uses recovered produce to feed customers, those in need

From left: Jon Heiber, chief strategy officer Mark Leybengrub, Emily Quade, co-founder and CEO Evan Lutz and Angela Parreco of Hungry Harvest are pictured at a free  farmers market, where residents of low-income neighborhoods can take home as  much produce as they want.

From left: Jon Heiber, chief strategy officer Mark Leybengrub, Emily Quade, co-founder and CEO Evan Lutz and Angela Parreco of Hungry Harvest are pictured at a free farmers market, where residents of low-income neighborhoods can take home as much produce as they want.

When Evan Lutz was a business major at the University of Maryland, College Park, something just didn’t add up to him.

While focusing on the issue of food justice, he learned that a third of the fresh water used in the United States is used on produce that ultimately goes to waste; that one in five apples ends up being thrown out and one in six Americans are food insecure.

Looking to go into social enterprise, the Pikesville native started working with the Food Recovery Network, which donated leftover food from the university’s dining halls to soup kitchens, shelters and food banks. When Lutz and that organization’s executive director were approached by a produce supplier who did something similar, he started the Recovered Food CSA, in which he set up a farm stand on campus once a week and sold five pounds of produce for $5 and made a pound-for-pound donation to those in need.

“I was raised on the premise that a lot of people aren’t as fortunate as us,” Lutz, 23, said. “As long as I can remember, I wanted to become a social entrepreneur.”

Recovered Food CSA would become Hungry Harvest, the Columbia-based startup that Lutz founded in May 2014 just after graduation. The organization sells “surplus” or “recovered” produce — produce that doesn’t meet grocery stores’ high standards — in CSAs (community supported agriculture) that are delivered to customers from Maryland to Northern Virginia once a week. For every bag, Hungry Harvest donates 1.2 pounds to hungry individuals.

“If you had a bag and I didn’t tell you it was surplus, you would have no idea,” Lutz said. “Grocery stores have ridiculously high standards.”

An apple could be too big or too small, or misshapen, or the farmer grew too many to sell. An eggplant might have an oddly-shaped nose. Broccoli might be oversized.

Hungry Harvest has recovered about 270,000 pounds of produce from going to waste and donated about 100,000 pounds to the hungry.

The produce comes from local farmers and wholesalers year-round and is delivered to about 600 customers in Baltimore City and county, Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County and Northern Virginia. There are eight CSA options: the mini harvest, full harvest and super harvest, all of which are offered in organic CSAs and two fruit CSAs.

In addition to its donations of one meal per bag sold, Hungry Harvest has held two free farmers markets, where the company works with different organizations to bring 3,000 pounds of produce to low-income neighborhoods and gives it away for free to area residents, who can take home as much as they want.

On Nov. 21, a free farmers market was held in West Baltimore in conjunction with the No Boundaries Coalition. Tiffany Welch, the organization’s healthy food access and food justice organizer, is working in six communities surrounding the Penn North area to bring the neighborhood more consistent access to produce. The overall area the coalition works in has a ratio of liquor stores to convenience stores of 10:1, and that jumps to 16:1 in Sandtown-Winchester. Welch said she is working with the convenience stores to offer produce. Although the area has a public market, it is the only of Baltimore’s six public markets that doesn’t consistently have fresh produce, meat or fish, Welch said.

The Nov. 21 market was free to those who live in No Boundaries’ main catchment area, and $3 for others.

“We wanted to do something special right before Thanksgiving,” Welch said about the free farmers market. “The response has been overwhelming.”

For the company’s other employees, the social enterprise aspect is a major plus to working at the startup.

Chief strategy officer Mark Leybengrub, who met Lutz in college, said he always thought Hungry Harvest was a great idea, but didn’t know if it would be sustainable.
He was working in public sector consulting for IBM prior to Hungry Harvest, and said it was a “paradigm shift” in mentality going from a corporation to a startup.

“I think what really enticed me was that [Lutz] really convinced me that this could be a sustainable business model with social value at its core,” Leybenbrug said.

Growing up in Owings Mills and Pikesville, Leybengrub isn’t sure if his Jewish upbringing specifically influenced his decision to join Hungry Harvest, but he said the values of empathy and empathizing with those less fortunate are definitely ingrained in him. He remembers Rabbi Yehuda Oratz at Beth Tfiloh talking about the Jewish laws that govern giving a percentage of what one makes to charity.

Kevin Kresloff, Hungry Harvest’s director of operations, found some unexpected friends through his work. Every Saturday, he picks up five men from the Montgomery County Coalition for the homeless men’s shelter so they can assemble that week’s deliveries. The men have all been recently released from jail.

“I was a bit hesitant in that being a Jewish boy growing up in Montgomery County, I didn’t have much experience with that,” Kresloff said. “I’ve personally developed almost a best-friend relationship with the guys.” He said they’re grateful for the opportunity to work and learn skills they can take elsewhere.

Hungry Harvest is currently working to improve its customer experience and wants to raise $150,000 by the end of the year. Lutz hopes to launch in Philadelphia or New York sometime in the middle of 2016.

“We’re doing well and it’s a lot of fun,” Lutz said.


Weekend Backpacks Give Lifeline to Hungry Kids Since March, Sandie Nagel has been sending backpacks full of food home with needy students in the city

From left: Volunteers Margery Braver and Leslie  Monfred with Weekend Backpacks founder Sandie Nagel, at Chimes, where employees and volunteers pack bags of food for needy Baltimore City students  to take home for the weekend.

From left: Volunteers Margery Braver and Leslie Monfred with Weekend Backpacks founder Sandie Nagel, at Chimes, where employees and volunteers pack bags of food for needy Baltimore City students to take home for the weekend.

On a recent Thursday morning at the Chimes facility in Milford Mill, a group of volunteers and employees were hard at work packing backpacks full of apples, milk, juice, jelly and canned food. While others in the same room were
putting together boxes and loading them with beer from a local brewery to be enjoyed during the upcoming holidays, these backpacks were for those who most need the food.

Since mid-March, 78-year-old Sandie Nagel has spearheaded the Miriam Lodge Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids program, which gives Baltimore City students who are experiencing homelessness food-laden backpacks to feed at least four people every weekend. Thirty six students at Tench Tilghman Elementary School in East Baltimore, John Ruhrah Elementary School in Greektown and a small nursery school in the Park Heights area are sent home with backpacks every Friday.

Nagel, past president of the Miriam Lodge, the oldest Jewish women’s charitable organization in Maryland, started Weekend Backpacks, a 501(c)3, after simply asking a question. Nagel’s company, Playbound, which takes people from Baltimore on tours of New York, has been collecting hats, gloves and scarves for the students at Tench Tilghman for the past five years. One day last winter, she asked a social worker how many students at the school were experiencing homelessness, to which she answered 100.

The social worker explained to Nagel that those students get breakfast every morning at school, a hot lunch, fresh fruit in the afternoon and a sandwich to take home.

“But, she said, from Friday until Monday morning when they get back, many of them don’t get any food,” Nagel said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to bring weekend backpacks.’ I had no idea what I was doing.”

She had heard about a similar program on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” but found that there was no national umbrella organization for weekend backpacks. Through Internet research and a lot of phone calls, Nagel connected with other people who run similar programs, found someone willing to donate backpacks and also found her own unique approach. Some of these organizations were only sending home enough food to feed the one child.

“The kid doesn’t live in isolation. And how do you send someone home with food when there’s siblings?” she said. “Our philosophy became we feed the family, as many kids are in the home.”

ShopRite discounts food purchases, H&S Bakery provides discounted bread once a month and various other local organizations have pitched in. In addition to fundraising through Miriam Lodge, students at Krieger Schechter Day School’s middle school gave their tzedakah money to Weekend Backpacks last year and will be providing lunches for students in the program in January, March and May next year. The Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills is holding a canned good drive for the program this December.

One hundred percent of the money raised goes to food.

Since the program’s third week, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who work at Chimes have been helping package the backpacks.

“They have taken pride [in it]. They know that it’s for hungry kids. They understand where the food is going and they know it’s great,” Nagel said of the Chimes employees.

The program has several regular volunteers these days, including sisters-in-law Leslie Monfred and Margery Braver. Monfred connected with Nagel in the fall at a luncheon that benefited the backpacks program. At the time, Nagel had a broken leg and therefore wasn’t going to be able to deliver backpacks for a couple of weeks.

“I said, ‘That’s unacceptable, tell me what to do,’” Monfred recalled. She and Braver, who ensured the backpacks were delivered when Nagel couldn’t, have been involved ever since.

Monfred sees this type of work as the responsibility of the Jewish people. For her, simply thinking about how tough one day of fasting can be on Yom Kippur motivates her.

“It’s really our responsibility as Jews to do what we can to make sure people don’t go hungry,” she said.

Nagel, who delivered meals with Meals on Wheels for 35 years, hopes her organization evolves to a similar delivery model. While a generous grant from the Gulton Foundation will go to great lengths to help the program, Nagel is actively fundraising for the organization.

“Our goal is next September to be in a situation where we’re doing 100 backpacks which serve anywhere from 100 to 500 [kids] in a facility,” Nagel said. “If we ever get to 500 [backpacks], we’d be serving 2,000 kids a week. It’s ambitious, but it’s doable. It will happen.”

To donate, visit gofundme.com/ungpjs or send a check made out to Weekend Backpacks to Miriam Lodge, 7310 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21208.

Leaving a Legacy Bequeathing an impactful donation is more attainable than you think

Legacy donors, those who name a charity in a will or trust as a beneficiary to assets upon death, are typically associated with only the wealthiest in society.

But that is not the case, nor is it necessary to have great wealth during a lifetime to make a substantial financial impact on an organization after death. Planned giving  departments in nonprofits across the country are educating people on this concept.

“In general, when you’re alive you’ve got bills to pay, every day cares, and you want to live a good life,” said Michael Friedman, senior vice president of philanthropic planning and services at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “But at the end of your life, you’ve accumulated more than you thought possible, and think,  ‘I can do greater impact than  when I’m alive.’ People can give much more through their estates than they ever could during their lifetimes.”

Friedman was quick to point out this doesn’t mean his department takes away from the annual gifts received by The Associated. Estate giving is on top of that generosity, he said.



The ability to be a legacy donor “is not reflective of the amount they’re giving annually,” added Orlee Engler Kahn, director of planned giving at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Department of Philanthropy. Legacy donors can be “longtime loyal donors, of any amount. It shows they have a loyalty and connection to the mission, so they may be  interested in doing something  bigger and planned for beyond their lifetime.”

“Everyone wants to be remembered,” Friedman said, quoting a  recent presentation by the department’s chairwoman, Beth Goldsmith, “How do you want to be remembered and what will your legacy be?”

Friedman is in the business of divining exactly that for people who choose The Associated as  recipient of their gifts.

“I help make people’s dreams come true,” said Friedman. “I help them do what they want to do. Helping people create legacies that reflect their values and that they feel good about. … Through our legacy program, we provide people a way to express their values through their generosity so that the good work of The Associated can carry on.”

Through The Associated, a donor can choose from several legacy-giving opportunities, such as naming The Associated as a beneficiary in a will, insurance policy or an IRA or other retirement plan; donating stock or other property; or developing a charitable  income plan such as a charitable remainder trust or a charitable gift annuity.

Kahn, who loves to “help people create their philanthropic roadmap,” works with those same tools as  options and calls the charitable gift annuity a “win, win, win.”

“[The donor] gets to have the pleasure of giving a gift, because that’s the most important thing, the intention of the gift,” she explained. “They also get the tax deduction, and the charity at the end gets the [bequest] gift.”

“A legacy gift is at the same level as giving to a family member.  If someone wants to leave an  organization a gift in their estate, they’re putting the organization  on the same level as their family.” — Orlee Engler Kahn, director of planned giving at  Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Department of Philanthropy.

The Associated receives an average of 30 to 40 bequests per year after a donor has died, Friedman said, and “we have approximately 500 people (across about two decades) who have told us that they are  leaving legacies to us.”

“[Very often] legacy donors don’t even let the organization know they’ve left them the money,” said Kahn.

Brett Cohen, 36, owner of the home improvement company Kitchen Saver, and his wife Julie, a genetic counselor, recently named The Associated as a beneficiary in their will, which they created after the birth of their child about two years ago.

“We wanted to make sure the  Jewish community would be a  recipient of some of our estate,” said Brett, “because its very important to continue giving long after we’re gone.”

The couple also named The Associated as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy, and they were first to participate in IMPACT funds, in which a young person can accumulate $2,000 per year for five years  in order to create a Donor Advised Fund.

“It’s about giving back to the community that’s giving us so much,” said Brett, “and giving others the opportunities and safety net that we’ve had.”

And giving back to community is something for which the United States is considered a world leader.

In June 2015, Giving USA reported that Americans donated $358.38  billion to charities last year, the highest total in the report’s 60-year history.

“The United States is really  special, because its tax laws are set up to incentivize people to be donors and philanthropists,” said Kahn, who has also directed planned giving for The Ronald McDonald House and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. “And legacy planning certainly falls into that category and not everyone is educated on that.”

Legacy gifts “secure endowment funds for The Associated, our agencies and the entire Jewish community,” said Friedman.

The Associated also offers a Donor Advised Fund option, in which the donor receives an immediate tax benefit and retains the right to recommend grants from contributed funds, which gain  interest, to almost any charity over a period of years, said Friedman.  It requires $10,000 to start.

There is also a Supporting Foundation option, typically established by families, and requires $1 million to fund. It has its own board of directors that consists of appointees from The Associated as well as family members.

“There are about 350 Donor  Advised Funds, worth close to  $100 million and more than 50 Supporting Foundations, which are worth many times more than that,” Friedman said.

If a donor doesn’t feel a connection to the charity, it’s just a financial transaction which, Kahn said, isn’t the profile of a legacy donor.

“A legacy gift is at the same level as giving to a family member,” said Kahn. “If someone wants to leave an organization a gift in their estate, they’re putting the organization on the same level as their family.”


Giving Back Jewish businesses in Baltimore have a history of philanthropic action

Eight local Jewish businesses will join The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1. The concept of a day of giving started three years ago in New York’s 92nd Street Y.

Eight local Jewish businesses will join The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1. The concept of a day of giving started three years ago in New York’s 92nd Street Y.

As the holiday season approaches, several Jewish business owners in Baltimore have made it a point to become involved in a cause they are passionate about through philanthropy.

Stanley Drebin, owner of Goldberg’s Bagels in Pikesville, said since he opened his store almost 18 years ago he has donated to hundreds of charities, giving to some two or three times per week.

“Everybody gives to charity,” he said.

Every day, Drebin said, Goldberg’s sets aside 10 percent of its sales for the Ahavas Yisrael Charity Fund, which gives aid to needy Jewish families in Baltimore. He also donates to the Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars Program and chooses seven Wednesdays out of the year to invite students in for a meal.

“You’re talking about 100 people coming in,” he said.

Blumi Weil, who has operated the women’s clothing store Shell Li out of her home in Cheswolde since 2008, said she and her husband donate to many of the local Jewish day schools, including Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, Bnos Yisrael of Baltimore and the Torah Institute of Baltimore.

“We try to give back in any way we can,” she said.

Weil’s store caters to Orthodox women who have a difficult time finding a modest shirt in the mall. She said she will often hold auctions throughout the year and donate gift certificates. Her husband also volunteers with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, and this year they are participating in Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1 — an initiative started three years ago by New York’s 92nd Street Y that has turned into a national day of giving. Jonathan Davidov, one of this year’s co-chairs for The Associated, said there are eight business owners participating, including Weil and Jeff Karlin, the owner of Miller’s Deli.

“I think business owners recognize that giving back to the community is good business and hopefully it does drive business to them,” he said.

Davidov said last year’s Giving Tuesday raised $1.38 million for The Associated’s annual campaign. He envisions that the event will eventually become a national day of service.

“It’s definitely growing in terms of its reach and its popularity, and the state of Maryland has been aggressive in embracing this as a day of giving,” he explained. “I know we in the [Jewish] community jumped on it pretty early, because this was a neat idea and a way to mobilize people.”

Karlin is participating in Giving Tuesday for the first time this year after his business partner, Mark Neumann, who is the board chair of The Associated, convinced him to climb aboard.

“I hope it says that my partner and I and our staff are mensches, because the community has allowed us to be in business for all of these years at this location,” he said.

Karlin said Miller’s has had a long history of giving back to the community, holding events 15 to 20 times per year in which 10 percent of sales after 4 p.m. go toward a particular cause. Supported charities have included The Mount Washington School, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Covenant Guild.

“We’ve done it with a very broad group of organizations,” he said.

Another cause Jews in the community donate to is the United Way of Central Maryland’s Harvest of Plenty initiative. The program is in its 23rd year and distributes 4,000 Thanksgiving dinners to low-income Maryland families.