Super Sundays challenge: Boosting dollars, not pounds

Expanding the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's bottom line is what volunteers on Super Sunday work hard to achieve.

Working hard to keep from their own bottoms from expanding might be an even bigger challenge.

One of the perks for the approximately 1,000 volunteers who participate in the JCF's annual one-day phonathon is a seemingly endless supply of M&Ms and other candies — a big bowl next to each of the 104 telephones.

"It's become something of a tradition: How long can you go through Super Sunday without eating an M&M?" said Sandi Hyman, the chair for the 19th annual event on Feb. 6.

"For some people who are there for all 12 hours, it's like: Do I get M&Ms for lunch and dinner and my two snacks? Fortunately, they're kosher."

And fortunately, raising money on Super Sunday — while a serious endeavor — isn't all business for the small army of JCF staff workers and volunteers who will call about 10,000 Jews in the Bay Area and ask them for donations.

"What we really stress to the volunteers is having a lot of fun at the same time they're raising money," Hyman said. "It is a fun-filled day, meeting new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones that you might not have seen for a few months or maybe even since last year's Super Sunday."

Of course, the big tote board is always looming at Super Sunday's headquarters, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, reminding everyone of the day's main purpose. Volunteers will also be working the phones at the Albert L. Schultz JCC in Palo Alto.

The unofficial goal for this year, Hyman said, is to raise $2 million for the JCF's 2000 campaign, which would be a substantial increase over last year's total of $1.7 million but a bit short of the all-time record of $2.3 million set five years ago.

Speaking of records, no one knows for sure what the M&M or Jelly Belly gobbling record is, just that "every telephone has an ample supply," according to Hyman.

Well-placed inside sources revealed there will be approximately 60 pounds of M&Ms available on Super Sunday, which equals some 45,632 pieces — or about 45 per person if there are 1,000 volunteers.

Moreover, lunch or dinner will be provided to volunteers who work two or more shifts. And there will be other snacks, such as cookies and perhaps bagels.

"M&Ms and Jelly Bellys and other nosherei are just part of the fun we try to have during the day," JCF spokesperson Suzan Berns said.

"One of the other things we do is give away tacky colored leis" to volunteers who get someone to make either a new donation or a larger donation than they made last year.

"It sounded like a silly idea when we thought of it, but it turned out to be real fun," Berns added. "Last year, we had people walking around with six or seven or eight of them around their necks. It was cute."

Also this year, each volunteer will get a "stress-reducing" squeeze-ball in the shape of a computer.

Volunteers from the Young Adults Division have their own wacky traditions, from keeping large blow-up punching dolls near their phone bank to wearing glow-stick necklaces. This year, they are expected to wear bobbing antennae.

"Each division gets to dress up their phones as they see fit," Hyman said. "YAD has probably had some of the zaniest get-ups."

And when a volunteer puts down the phone after a major donation, the emcee talks it up big and music blares out over the speakers.

"There's a lot of comedy and ruach going on throughout the day," Berns said. "It's a real feel-good time because you know you're doing something positive."

Last year, Super Sunday accounted for about 8 percent of the record $20.9 million raised by the 1999 annual campaign. Of that figure, approximately $10 million was allocated to local and national Jewish programs with another $7.1 million going to programs in Israel and overseas.

Money raised by federation aided nearly 50 Jewish organizations and agencies in Northern California last year. The biggest chunks went to the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, which received $1.5 million, and the JCC of S.F., which got $1.2 million.

Super Sunday lasts from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is divided into five shifts. JCF employees are required to be there all day; volunteers usually work one or two shifts apiece, although about 35 spent the entire day last year.

Volunteers are trained with the help of funny but instructive video put together by Elliot Brandt, the regional director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and humor writer Fred Raker.

"It dealt with important issues, but it was also very funny last year, especially the out-takes," Berns said. This year, it will be a takeoff of a movie review show on TV. "It's called Elliot and Fred at the movies."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.