Sukkot in April volunteers will mend fences — for free

"Each of the sponsoring groups has captains who handle both the volunteer and the bricks-and-mortar aspects of the project," says Amy Markowitz, chair of the Sukkot in April steering committee. "From our list of volunteers, we try to find skilled craftspeople to oversee the logistics of the job at each site."

Yoel Sberlo, a San Francisco plumbing contractor and member of Congregation Beth Sholom, is the skills captain for the synagogue's project at the Mount St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Resident Nursery for teen mothers and their babies. Workers' goals include creating a sleeping area and installing flooring, cabinets, shelves and cubbyholes.

Sberlo has spent dozens of hours so far — "a little time every day for the past six weeks," he says — coordinating logistics for the project. He recruited professionals to donate their services, and arranged for materials to be delivered at the site. The Beth Sholom volunteers will arrive at 8 a.m. Sunday.

"It feels very good to do this," says Sberlo, a father of four. The nursery "helps teenage mothers put their lives back together. It not only keeps them from being on the streets, but also provides day care, teaches them parenting and gives them skills so they can get jobs." He estimates that the renovation job would cost $30,000 to $50,000 if the services were not donated.

Sukkot in April coordinators work very closely with Christmas in April, which has been organizing community-based workdays nationally for 10 years. The combined Sukkot in April-Christmas in April committee matches facilities and homes in need of repair with the capabilities of the participating organizations.

"We put Brandeis Hillel Day School, Or Shalom Jewish Community and Congregation Beth Israel-Judea together to work at Grattan Playground because the site is safe and appropriate for children," says Sukkot in April coordinator Cheryl Feiner.

The children will paint a mural on a formerly graffiti-covered wall, making the busy Haight playground a more cheerful place.

Approximately 5,000 volunteers will work on the combined Sukkot in April and Christmas in April projects.

"It's like creating a construction company for a weekend," says Markowitz. "Behind the scenes there's a huge warehouse full of raw materials: paintbrushes, ladders, lumber, nails, hammers — all kinds of tools."

The supplies "will be checked out on Saturday, used, brought back, re-inventoried and checked out again on Sunday for Sukkot in April."

Besides working on community facilities, volunteers will spruce up the homes of low-income elderly as well as people with AIDS and disabilities.

The volunteers will paint the homes, fix fences, pull weeds and install wheelchair ramps or handrails in bathrooms — "restoring pride for people who have loved and cherished a home over many years," says Thomas R. Fox, an emergency planning consultant and the house project coordinator for JFCS.

Sukkot in April is an outgrowth of Mitzvah Days, which are staged by area synagogues, Jewish day schools and community organizations.

"Christmas in April provided supplies and technical assistance for our earlier projects," says Janice Weinstein of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, a member of the Sukkot in April steering committee. "Joining forces for a larger communitywide purpose seemed like a natural fit."

Named after the harvest festival, Sukkot in April commemorates the temporary shelters built by the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt.

"The holiday of Sukkot is all about bringing people together to build shelter," says Rachel Kesselman, JFCS volunteer coordinator. "Sukkot in April provides a wonderful way for people to come together in a spirit of camaraderie and fun that builds bridges between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities and makes a real difference in people's lives."

Special funding for Sukkot in April is provided by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Louise and Claude Rosenberg Jr. Family Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation FAITHS Initiative, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Christmas in April-San Francisco and Congregation Emanu-El.

To volunteer for Sukkot in April, call Cheryl Feiner at (415) 561-0409.