Volunteers aplenty perform mitzvahs on MLK Day

More than 1,700 people participated in Mitzvah Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteer events on the Peninsula and in the South Bay last weekend.

Calvin Chin and his daughter visiting seniors in Palo Alto photo/kyla reznik-ofjcc

In several events organized by Jewish and multifaith groups, volunteers made blankets, cooked meals and cleaned parks. They served meals at shelters and made pet toys for the Humane Society. Most of all, they came together to volunteer alongside others around the country for what has become a national day of service.

“It’s nice to be able to give back to society, to the local community,” said Reina Mizuno Rampell, who brought her two young sons to help make soup for elderly residents of the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto.

They were among more than 900 people who registered for more than 30 service projects as part of the Oshman Family JCC’s eighth annual Mitzvah Day of Community Service, held on the Jan. 19 holiday. The hands-on projects included helping the homeless, the elderly, children, shelter animals and the environment.

For the soup-making service project, about 30 or 40 parents and children picked vegetables from the JCC preschool’s garden, washed and cut them, then added them to a pot to make “stone soup.” They brought the soup to the seniors and shared a meal with them; the children also performed a song and dance they had practiced.

Sorting books at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City photo/courtesy jcrc

“Some of [the seniors] got up and danced with the kids, which was nice to see. I think they had a great time,” Rampell said. Plus, the activity inspired her children to expand their palates. “They ate all the vegetables that they had never eaten before,” Rampell said.

Additionally, more than 500 volunteers worked on 27 projects as part of the Peninsula Multifaith Day of Service on MLK Day. Four Peninsula synagogues and the Jewish Community Relations Council are part of the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition.

Volunteers sang to the elderly, sorted donated coats, did improvement projects at local schools and served breakfast to day laborers, among other activities. At one elementary school, there was a communal lunch and book giveaway to students.

“It was amazing to see all of their eyes light up when they saw the 1,500 donated books they had to choose from,” said Richard Heiman, co-chair of Temple Beth El’s Interfaith Friendship Committee and co-chair of the Peninsula Multifaith Day of Service. “The kids swarmed to these books. They were putting them in bags to take home and sitting aside and reading them.”

The Peninsula Multifaith Coalition, founded in 2012, has held three MLK Day volunteer events, and the scope and participation has grown every year, Heiman said. Other volunteer and social events are held throughout the year.

“The purpose of our getting together is getting to know each other better through community service,” Heiman said. “We want to have a peaceful neighborhood and, hopefully, a model for the world for peace.”

In Los Gatos, more than 300 people volunteered for a Jan. 18 Mitzvah Day organized by Congregation Shir Hadash. They worked on more than 20 projects, such as making 300 sandwiches for the homeless and crafting more than 200 pet toys for Humane Society animals. Event co-chair Simona Freeman’s daughters, ages 6 and 9, helped make blankets for people in need.

“They love it,” Freeman said of her girls’ eagerness to participate. “They feel like they’re doing something fun and making someone warm at the same time.”

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.