Synagogues holiday drive reaches million-dollar milestone

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Dan McClosky was beaming when he was presented with a $1 million check last week — but the money wasn’t for him.

Rather, the dollar figure on the oversized check represented the total amount raised over the years by the Holiday Dinner Drive, which McClosky started 16 years ago. The initiative, which raises money for local food banks, pulled in its millionth dollar during the recent holiday season.

“It’s a good feeling,” said McClosky, a member of Temple Sinai in Oakland and a sales rep at an East Bay lighting and electronics company. “An awful lot of people have participated.”

Dan McClosky

McClosky started the drive in 1998 after reading that the Alameda Food Bank didn’t have enough turkeys to distribute that year. Reaching out to friends and family, he collected enough to buy 55 turkeys. The next year, Temple Sinai adopted the drive and sent out information to its congregants.

Now, 25 local congregations participate, with McClosky, co-chair Richard Hart and other volunteers helping the entire operation run smoothly.

The solicitation for funds is “coming from [a person’s own] synagogue, so people respond,” McClosky noted. “The congregations, year after year, look forward to doing this drive.”

Congregations direct the donations to their local food banks, which in turn supply low-income families with food during the holidays and throughout the year.

Michael Altfest, communications manager for the Alameda County Community Food Bank, was the person who presented McClosky with the huge check on Dec. 23, in front of 75 surprised volunteers who were working in the warehouse that day.

“We wanted to take a moment to recognize Dan and his efforts during the holiday time,” Altfest said. “This started as a simple idea resulting from one man’s passion and dedication to ending hunger.”

Following the ceremony, there were sufganiyot to eat (it was the seventh day of Hanukkah).

The Holiday Dinner Drive has raised $1,042,000 since its inception, including a 2014 figure of $62,263 as of the last week of December, Altfest said. He called the drive “one of the Bay Area’s most remarkable hunger-relief fundraising efforts.”

Suzan Bateson, executive director of the Alameda County Food Bank, echoed those sentiments in an early November interview with KPIX Channel 5, when McClosky received the Jefferson Award for community service.

“If we had more Dan McCloskys helping us end hunger, we would end hunger in Alameda County and throughout the Bay Area,” Bateson said.

Congregations participating this year: Beth Chaim (Danville); Beth Jacob, Beth Abraham and Sinai (Oakland); Beth El, Beth Israel and Netivot Shalom (Berkeley); Beth Emek (Pleasanton); Beth Israel Judea, B’nai Emunah, Chevra Thilim, Emanu-El, Ner Tamid and Sha’ar Zahav (San Francisco); Beth Jacob (Redwood City); B’nai Shalom and B’nai Tikvah (Walnut Creek); Etz Chayim (Palo Alto); Kol Shofar (Tiburon); Kehilla (Piedmont); Beth Sholom (San Leandro); Beth Torah (Fremont); Isaiah (Lafayette); and Temple Israel (Alameda).

For information on participating in the Holiday Food Drive, contact [email protected]. To find your local Bay Area food bank, visit www.bayareahunger.org. To view the KPIX story on McClosky, visit www.bit.ly/kpix-mcclosky.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.