Mitzvah Day 2017 at the Oshman Family JCC (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)
Mitzvah Day 2017 at the Oshman Family JCC (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)

Mitzvah Day projects will be adapted for pandemic times

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

The Covid-19 pandemic is keeping people at home, but there’s still a way to do some practical, hands-on volunteering next week through the Oshman Family JCC’s 14th Mitzvah Day on Monday, Jan. 18.

Mitzvah Day is held annually on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights leader, and usually is an opportunity for people to get together in person to lend their time and energy to community causes. But this year, the JCC is taking a different and innovative approach by combining Zoom events with hands-on projects.

“It’s a full-on volunteer day,” said JCC community engagement director Luba Palant. “Without being exposed to Covid.”

Sign-ups are open for 12 volunteer options, each led by a different nonprofit, with projects that range from making cat toys for a pet shelter to creating hygiene kits for the homeless. Most will start with a live video call at 11 a.m., where nonprofits from the local community will explain their work. Then staff will guide families and individuals through their chosen project using materials they will buy beforehand. Completed projects are then dropped off at the JCC the same day, to be distributed by staff.

It’s a way of letting people use their time to make a practical difference, even if they have to do it at home, Palant said.

OFJCC staff came up with the idea and invited a range of nonprofits, including the Palo Alto Humane Society, early childhood service provider Family Connections, the senior community Avenidas and homeless support providers Project WeHOPE and LifeMoves, plus Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Repair the World, IsraAid and others.

“It was very interesting how excited each and every nonprofit was when I presented this to them,” Palant said.

There’s a charge of $5 per household to sign up, money that is mostly used to subsidize supplies for families who want to do a project but can’t afford it, Palant said.

People can make blankets for the homeless, put together bird feeders, write letters to seniors or make snack packs for health care workers. Plenty of the projects can be done with children, and there are some more active options for young adults, including directions on how to do a park cleanup or socially distanced food sorting at a food bank.

You don’t have to live on the Peninsula to participate, either, Palant said — the JCC is happy to help people find a place to drop off their projects nearer to their homes. It’s a way to make this hybrid model of volunteering sustainable; if Mitzvah Day is successful as a virtual effort, the JCC is considering making it a monthly event.

“We’ve been thinking for some time now how we can involve people,” Palant said, “bringing them back to this mindset of giving back.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.