Congregants fill school-supply bags for disadvantaged

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When Dale Bergman did her back-to-school shopping, she selected in the range of 1,050 items.

Her lengthy list was a collaborative effort with Davida Rosenbaum, a fellow member of Congregation Shir Hadash and Bergman's co-chair of the Los Gatos synagogue's social action committee.

The school supplies went to 70 disadvantaged children in two South Bay shelters and the Emergency Housing Consortium in San Jose.

Footing the bill were members of Shir Hadash, which for two straight years has sponsored a school-supply drive for needy students. The social action committee organized the drive.

"The temple has a strong commitment to doing mitzvot in a variety of programs within our own community and extending to the outside community," Rosenbaum said. "We pick activities for everyone to become involved."

In June, the committee sent out letters and e-mails to congregants and the Jewish community of Greater San Jose seeking funds and school-supply donations.

Members also approached local businesses such as Kmart, Target and Borders Books for discounts on supplies.

Contributions from $18 to $100 poured in. "We received over $700 in donations, and basically, we spent all of it," said Bergman.

Shopping took only "a couple of hours," Bergman said. Planning beforehand, she scrutinized local newspapers for the best sales. Plus, she took along a list from Rosenbaum, who has an 8-year-old and knows what's "in."

Many donors made their own purchases and dropped them off at the synagogue. "They went shopping for their kids and bought for an extra kid," Bergman said.

Packing the bags was an efficient process. "We had everything sorted" and listed, Bergman said. Volunteers simply walked around the room and picked up whatever was on their list.

"It was something even a little kid could do."

On a warm Sunday in late August, about 20 congregants ranging in age from 5 to over 60 filled about 70 paper bags. Several entire families pitched in.

Alexis Hayden, 16, a San Jose high school student, was one of the participants. "This temple is my window of opportunity for helping others less fortunate. Our high school class here does many projects for the community."

Each recipient was given about 15 items including pens, pencils, a loose-leaf binder, crayons or markers, folders, rulers, staples, scissors and glue sticks.

Also, "each kid got a brand-new book," said Bergman. Older students received dictionaries and a book appropriate to their age level.

Bergman dropped off the supplies at two small South Bay shelters: Next Door in San Jose, for battered women, and Watch in Milpitas, a reduced-cost housing facility for low-income families. San Jose's Emergency Housing Consortium distributed the remainder of the items.

"It was amazing to see the kids,"she said. "They were so surprised that someone would think to do this for them."

They'd ask, "This is for us? Can we take them?"

"I was so excited," said Bergman. "It brought home the fact that even the little things are important."

Looking ahead, a restricted fund is being set up to receive donations for next year's project. Bergman's committee is planning to apply for grants to help expand the program and provide children's backpacks

"I feel this is a great project that has been received enthusiastically by our congregation." Rabbi Melanie Aron said.

"We can all identify with the child starting school with new supplies. During this summer of 1999 when we have all witnessed so many groundless hatred acts, we are so glad to be able to provide a deed of love and care, reaching many different races and ethnicities."