JFCS volunteers will distribute hundreds of Chanukah baskets

Volunteering or making a donation to the annual JFCS Chanukah drive is one way to reach out to families in crisis, isolated or frail elderly, recent refugees and people with AIDS or disabilities.

"By bringing menorahs, candles, dreidels, unwrapped toys, Jewish children's books, canned food, warm clothes or small personal items like gift cards, toiletries or picture frames to the JFCS office in your area, you can make a real difference in someone's life," says Anita Wornick, president of JFCS. "We can also use gelt — both chocolate and real — to sweeten the holiday for people who are experiencing difficult times."

Cash contributions to the JFCS Chanukah drive provide vouchers for emergency food and shelter and subsidize the creation of more than 1,000 Chanukah baskets for distribution.

Ilse and Walter Steirman, along with a group of 14 volunteers from San Mateo's Congregation Beth El, have helped out for many years. "I look forward to it. It means a lot to me because I could easily be in their shoes," says Walter Steirman of the newly arrived emigres and families in need who receive the packages.

In Santa Rosa, volunteers from JFCS and the social action committee of Congregation Shomrei Torah will deliver 125 Chanukah baskets from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. The baskets will be assembled by the seventh grade b'nai mitzvah class from the Congregation Beth Ami-Shomrei Torah religious school.

Also on Sunday, 40 people from JFCS' Families Together group will gather to assemble 600 baskets to be delivered to seniors and people with AIDS and disabilities by the young adult groups from Congregations Sherith Israel, Beth Sholom and Emanu-El.

The morning program for families includes storytelling by Seth Castleman.

"We want to teach the children about being both the giver and the receiver because you never know which you will be at any point in your life," says JFCS volunteer coordinator Rachel Kesselman. "Many people who receive Chanukah baskets were once independent and able to give to the community, but their circumstances have changed and now they need our support."

Kesselman's goal is to help the children involved in the Chanukah project understand what it means to "be able to give with respect and a full heart, and, if it becomes necessary, to be able to receive graciously."

In other Chanukah activities, volunteers from JFCS' One-to-One and English as a Second Language programs for recent refugees will integrate Chanukah games and lessons into their regular meetings and classes.

"Many people from the former Soviet Union never had the opportunity to celebrate Chanukah before," says JFCS volunteer coordinator Stephanie Kipperman, who will be providing bilingual materials about the holiday to 300 families.

And, in Marin County, two bookstores — Borders Books and Book Passages — are spearheading a Chanukah book drive for emigre children.

Bring items for the JFCS Chanukah drive to the JFCS office near you: 423 Presidio Ave., S.F.; 490 El Camino Real, Belmont; 655 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto; 200 N. San Pedro Road or 4040 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael; and 320 College Ave., Santa Rosa. Or send a check to Chanukah Drive, JFCS, 1600 Scott St., S.F., CA 94115.

To volunteer, call Sheryl Groden in San Francisco, (415) 561-1244; Audrey Zavell in Marin, (415) 507-0564; Jeri Phillips in Sonoma County, (707) 571-8131; or Marlene Levenson on the Peninsula, (650) 326-6696.