Posted by Joe Wolke

Students at Kesher Newton hosting a bake sale for Family Table.

In addition to working as a Distribution Assistant for JF&CS Family Table, Joe Wolke teaches Jewish history and philosophy to middle school students at the Kesher Newton school. Joe’s two jobs dovetailed nicely when students at Kesher Newton launched a project to collect holiday candles for Family Table.

The students in the Kesher Newton afterschool Hebrew program are taught from a very early age that being part of the Jewish community includes taking responsibility for those in need. The school regularly promotes projects that allow students to put this part of their education into practice. This year, the 16 middle school students of Kesher Newton have taken responsibility for leading the school’s Chesed project to provide JF&CS Family Table with Shabbat and Chanukkah candles so that every Jewish client can celebrate these holidays. This project is intended to demonstrate to the students that community needs like this can be met with the help of even the youngest students in the school.

The year-long project was dubbed “Candles for All” (נרות לכולם) by the students. In the project’s first week, the students created a logo, posters, collection boxes for every classroom, and a set of year-long fundraisers to meet their collection objectives. The first set of activities culminated with a bake sale held in conjunction with Kesher’s annual Chanukkah party. Over the two months since the project’s inception, the students of Kesher Newton collected over 100 boxes of Chanukkah candles and, through funds raised and direct contributions of candles, have already been able to provide more than five cases of the Shabbat candles that Family Table distributes as it serves nearly 500 families every month.

Lighting the WayCandles for All

The Candles for All project is designed to help Family Table in three important ways. The first objective of the project is the collection of as many candles (and the funds to purchase them) as possible for Family Table’s clients. As one of the students put it, “Every dollar we raise to buy candles frees up a dollar they [Family Table] can use to buy food.”

Second, the students have taken responsibility for repackaging the candles in bags of eight (enough for four Shabbatot) to be included in Family Table’s monthly distributions. Students also make Shabbat greeting cards that are included in each package, creating a direct connection between them and the recipients. These hands-on activities give the students a very tangible connection to the project; one they wouldn’t have if they were just raising funds.

The third, and possibly most important, objective of Candles for All is to raise awareness of the work that Family Table does in the Greater Boston area. While many of the Kesher students are already familiar with Family Table because of volunteer efforts with their families or synagogues, the middle school students still felt it was important to go class to class to talk about Family Table and encourage everyone to get involved. In the next few months, Kesher is planning to have representatives from Family Table give more detailed talks about what they do. Kesher has also scheduled talks from former recipients of Family Table so the students can get a better understanding of the vital role that Family Table plays in the community.

Looking Ahead

While everyone at Kesher is pleased with the success of Candles for All, they are not stopping here. The project will be a year-long effort with additional fundraisers and educational programs to come. Through projects like this, the students at Kesher Newton learn that the need to help others in their community never goes away. We should applaud their commitment to Chesed projects (acts of human kindness) as an ongoing part of their everyday lives.

Are you interested in supporting our food pantry? Learn how you can fundraise for Family Table!