Volunteers out to help the less fortunate

An estimated 12,000 volunteers performed good deeds on Sunday on the first nationwide Mitzvah Day.


Shadow Charities Minister Nick Hurd visited Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue to support the 200 people giving blood in a joint initiative with Northwood United shul.

In total, 450 Northwood Liberal members were involved in the day, prompting Rabbi Hillel Athias-Robles to declare that "in these credit crunch times, it's good to know we can all still do our bit for charity by giving not cash but a little time".

Children from the NPLS religion school provided entertainment for the congregation's senior members as well as working on promotional material for Fairtrade. Other youngsters got together with the confirmation class of a Catholic church to collect over 10 trolley-loads of goods from Waitrose shoppers for donation to the Northwood Live at Home charity.

Another interfaith collaboration was the redecoration of Homeless Action Barnet's drop-in centre by young volunteers from Finchley Reform, Edgware Reform and Alyth with paint supplied by the local parish church. Finchley Reform teens worked in the Oxfam shop in Finchley Central and other congregants cleared and spruced up Victoria Park.

In Muswell Hill, volunteers covered the age scale from two-year-old Aaron Taylor to octogenarian Stella Sandzer as they engaged in activities including a tea party for residents of Rosetree care home, packing donated items for World Jewish Relief, making and delivering sandwiches to a local soup kitchen and tidying up the Dursford recreation ground. In addition, 36 gift boxes were filled with seasonal presents for Barnardo's teenagers and 40 boxes crammed with items donated by Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury shoppers for people in need.

Muslims and Jews cooked up an appetising menu at Westminster Synagogue with the dishes prepared by the culinary team served to an audience of over 150 at an evening featuring musicians and comedians from both religions. Ayesha Hazarika and Josh Howie were the comic turns.

The London Jewish Cultural Centre project to collect gifts for child patients at Whittington Hospital was so well supported that a trolley had to be commandeered from the hospital's post room to take the gifts up to the wards.

Immanuel College in Bushey launched its social action projects for the year at a special assembly for Mitzvah Day. Pupils were urged to bring in food for the needy or to visit a Jewish Care home. Camp Simcha's Ariella Lew asked for help in fulfilling the charity's motto - "Today's treat helps you get through tomorrow's treatment" - by purchasing toys for children in hospital at Chanucah. As a longer-term project, Immanuel's star sandwich-maker, Mossy Wittenberg, announced that each form in turn would prepare sandwich lunches for the local homeless over the academic year.

One hundred adults and 120 children from Wimbledon and District Synagogue visited the elderly in hospital, cooked soup for the Merton homeless drop-in centre, worked in the Mortlake community garden and packed toiletries and school materials for the Separated Child Foundation. Local co-ordinator Marian Conn is already talking about a more ambitious programme next year.

The Separated Child Foundation - helping young refugees who come to the UK on their own - was additionally the focus of Belsize Square religion school. Pupils brought in essentials for welcome packs for the refugee children.

At a Neasden warehouse, 400 volunteers filled 382 boxes with humanitarian aid for World Jewish Relief clients across Eastern Europe. The volunteers, aged from five to 85, sorted thousands of new and nearly new goods donated by individuals, manufacturers and wholesalers.

The charity estimates that the items packed will benefit more than 8,000 people.

Mitzvah Day activities were part of a social action weekend by LJY-Netzer members, organised by 16-year-olds inspired by their experiences on the movement's recent Israel tour. The weekend was based at Southgate Progressive Synagogue and its highlight was a charity ball in aid of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality.

The Gift charity arranged for over 20 shops around London to collect food for Jewish Women's Aid and families in need. More than 100 young volunteers distributed the provisions.

London Mayor Boris Johnson complimented all who had given their time in the capital on "a fantastic job".

In a message of support, Tony Blair noted that "working together for the common good is a core principle of my Faith Foundation's approach to interfaith relations and Mitzvah Day volunteers are setting an example."

Mitzvah Day chair Laura Marks said the response had way exceeded expectations. "It clearly shows that even though times may be tough, there is still huge appetite for charitable works."

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