A 90-year-old Londoner who has devoted her life to volunteering was “surprised” but delighted to be honoured as an unsung hero of Jewish Care at a business lunch in Mayfair on Wednesday.
Joyce Saffron was presented with the Topland Award, recognising a person who has made a significant difference to the charity’s work — in her case, for 50 years.
The 500 diners heard how Ms Saffron began helping others as a child, when she accompanied her parents to the Home for Aged Jews and the Jewish Home and Hospital in Tottenham.
After the war, she helped to run a hospice in Kings Langley and volunteered for the Jewish Blind Society, the Home for Incurables and the Jewish Welfare Board, also becoming president of B’nai B’rith’s First Women’s Lodge.
In the 1950s, when poverty was rife among Jewish households in the East End, Ms Saffron and a friend founded Stepney Kosher Meals on Wheels, the first delivery service of its kind.
“We used to cook meals at the Stepney Jewish Day Centre,” she recalled. “Then I would go to half-a-dozen places twice a week. I’ve never seen such poverty as there was in those days.”
Neither her advancing years, nor the death of her beloved husband Tony eight years ago, have slowed her down. She still regularly organises visits and outings and hosts Jewish Care’s annual Chanucah lunch every year.
“Volunteering is a way of life for me,” she said. “I love speaking to people and helping them when I can. We reminisce about days gone by. People aren’t as poor now as they were when I started, but they’re lonely.”
Topland committee chair Nick Doffman said Ms Saffron was the obvious choice. “While we really need and appreciate funding, it’s also important to recognise the voluntary sector. Jewish Care has 3,000 volunteers and we must recognise that time [they give] equates to real value.
“After considering a few people, only one stood out — that was Joyce. How someone of her age still has this energy to look after people who are much younger than her is remarkable.
“She is only concerned about others and that is really at the heart of what she is all about.”
Before taking the stage, Ms Saffron said: “I don’t do this kind of thing for rewards, but it’s very nice to be appreciated.”
The lunch raised £230,000 for Jewish Care.