Festive season volunteers help homeless and poor

Hundreds of Jewish volunteers will be giving up their time over the Christmas period to help those in need


Hundreds of Jewish volunteers will be giving up their time over the festive season to help those in need.

“Our aim is really to spread a feeling of warmth, goodwill and gratitude, especially to people who are vulnerable around this time,” explained Esther Radnor, project lead of Tikun’s Light Up A Life programme.

In its 12th year, the scheme provides volunteering activities from Christmas to New Year and serves “charities that struggle with [availability of] regular volunteers through the season”.

Tikun volunteers help out at homeless shelters and food banks in London and Hertfordshire.

Ms Radnor’s sentiments were echoed by Lia Bogod, head of charity engagement and volunteering at the Jewish Volunteering Network, who said many homeless charities were “very low on staff because they want to give staff time off to be with their family on Christmas Day.

“So you feel you are stepping in and doing something that really needs doing on a day that we don’t have a Yomtov. It’s just mucking in.”

This year’s volunteers will include Matthew Ziff, a Kinloss member who lives in St Albans. Through Light Up A Life, he will help out at homeless shelters, as well as delivering food from bakeries in Hendon to Jewish families in need.

He will be joined by his children Gabriella (12) and Nicholas (ten), reasoning: “I want the children to see what’s going on, bit of the real world. It’s a bit of perspective for them. For me, it’s about letting them know how, unfortunately, other people have to be, and teach them to be grateful. It’s a massive mitzvah.”

Another volunteer will be Vicky Woolf, who lives in Borehamwood and is a member of Cockfosters and North Southgate shul. She has taken part in the scheme for a number of years, wanting to show daughter Emillie, now aged nine, “that there are people less fortunate than her. It is also one way for her to realise that, at the time when people should be with their families, unfortunately some can’t be for whatever reason. It’s become a thing we both enjoy doing together.”

They have already participated in a chocolate wrap and drop at the Jewish Museum, run by Tikun in association with Project ImpACT. This involved volunteers wrapping around 2,000 boxes of chocolates containing a personal message which will be delivered to London hospitals.

Mum and daughter will also be involved in Tikun’s Make It, Bake It, Take It project, baking cakes and biscuits to be delivered to fire stations as a thank-you to emergency service personnel on call over the holidays.

Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue member Brian Royston will be volunteering through JVN, delivering food parcels to needy Jewish families and driving volunteers to Sufra’s food bank and kitchen in North London on Christmas Day. With his 24-year-old twin daughters away at Limmud, he wanted to “make use of their absence to do something useful”. Sufra has a small but dedicated band of Jewish volunteers who help out throughout the year.

Ms Bogod will volunteer with her husband and two twentysomething sons for the Samaritans in Kings Cross, serving lunch to the homeless on Christmas Day.

“As a family, you feel you’re doing something together that is positive, rather than eating more food and sitting in front of the television,” she said. “It’s good for my children to see how, for other people, [life is] not so simple.

“It’s heartwarming that we get so many people calling us at JVN at this time of year who want to do something. It’s probably because they have time, but that’s OK.

“They like to help other people to celebrate important days for them.”

Ms Radnor said that some people considered an activity such as wrapping gifts and handing them out as a “small thing to get involved with”. But for recipients “it can mean so, so much”.

For more information and volunteering opportunities, visit the Jewish Volunteering Network website here, or the Light Up A Life website here.

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