#PJThankful – Connecting Through Caring During COVID-19

"Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will, in the end, connect us to our neighbors, our children, and our hearts."

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During dark times, we take inspiration from the remarkable life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the transformative power of love and kindness. Dr. King embodied the value of tikkun olam ("repairing the world" in Hebrew), and his lessons continue to guide us as we all navigate life in a global pandemic.

Like the rest of the world, the Bay Area is continuing to experience the economic, social, and emotional toll of COVID-19, and our most vulnerable populations are suffering. Many individuals and families cannot meet their most basic needs, and local food pantries are working around the clock to meet the exponential food demands. Jewish Family and Children's Services' (JFCS) food banks have seen a ten times higher demand for food during COVID-19, and food banks in the East Bay have experienced similarly increased demand. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano now serves an unprecedented 270,000 people every month to keep up with the current need. Dharma Galang, director of the Berkeley Food Pantry, explains that "COVID-19 has shown the fractures that have developed over decades in our society. Many people lived on the edge before the pandemic."

Contra Costa Food Bank employee with #PJThankful donations

Like Dr. King taught us, we all share a collective responsibility to make the world a better place and teach our children to care for others. Collectively, we can make a difference so that people need not carry their burdens alone. To that end, PJ Library Bay Area proudly partnered with local PJ Library families, our PJ Parent Connectors, and several Jewish organizations to give thanks and spread love in our community. Together, we launched a month-long #PJThankful campaign collecting donations of food, essential items, and gift cards for food banks throughout the region. PJ Library families expressed their gratitude through acts of tzedakah (Hebrew for philanthropy) at donation sites located at Jewish Community Centers, synagogues, Jewish preschools, and socially distanced events hosted by PJ Library Parent Connectors.

During the #PJThankful campaign, we were able to collect and donate more than 2,000 pounds of food and hundreds of dollars in gift cards to Bay Area food banks thanks to local families and our amazing partners: Congregation Beth Sholom, Congregation B'nai Sholom, Peninsula Temple Beth El, the JCC Preschool in San Rafael and Tiburon, and the JCC East Bay.

Volunteers with #PJThankful donations at the JCC East Bay

Taking meaningful action to help people enables parents and children to comfort others in a difficult time.

Erik Kolacek, an Alameda PJ Library parent, shared: "In 2008, I was out of work and close to losing my home. I turned to the Alameda Food Bank so that I could make ends meet and pay my mortgage. I will always remember that I received help when I needed it, and now that I have a family, I will always pay it forward when I can." Eric's young son eagerly walked his bags of canned goods to a local park where local PJ Parent Connector Sadaya hosted a socially distanced collection event.

Boy dropping off canned goods with a JCC East Bay staff member

On the same Sunday in San Ramon, PJ Library parent Gabi Lazar took her children to their local market to buy food for our #PJThankful campaign. "While growing up in Israel, giving to those less fortunate was the highest value in our home," Gabi shared. "This year, more than ever, I felt it was essential that my kids learn the importance of giving. My oldest wants to give again very soon. I am grateful to PJ Library for reinforcing this value for my family."

Modeling charitable acts is a meaningful way for children to see the value of giving while increasing their self-esteem and feeling empowered. Nathania McNally, an East Bay PJ Library parent, told us that "discussing homelessness or hunger with children can be uncomfortable, but it is so necessary to help them see beyond their own needs and cultivate kindness. Sometimes we look for ways to help, and sometimes it comes looking for us. Either way, we are glad for the opportunity to teach our children and help others."

Donation Pick up at the JCC Preschool in San Rafael

The #PJThankful donations warmed the hearts of those that needed it most.

Sally, age 81, lives alone on a limited income. During the pandemic, she has not been able to go out to shop or see friends. Weekly grocery deliveries from JFCS' Food Bank provide her with nutritious food and a warm connection to the community, helping her feel less alone. Sharing her gratitude, Sally said, "Thank you for the wonderful and much needed nutritious food! I am humbled and grateful beyond words. Thank you for being my angels during this distressing time. My heart is still smiling."

We are grateful to all the families, parents, children, teachers, and organizations that made the #PJThankful campaign possible. Let's continue to honor Dr. King's legacy by caring for each other and leading with love.

Co-authored by Aliza Golshani (Manager, PJ Library Bay Area) and Vivien Braly (Director, PJ Library Bay Area).

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December 31, 2020