Jewish Family Services of MetroWest Volunteers Rise Above Pandemic

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By Grace Mayer

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FRAMINGHAM – The Jewish Family Services of Metrowest celebrated the organization’s increased efforts to deliver meals and donations to members of Framingham’s Jewish and immigrant communities during the Covid-19 pandemic at its virtual 43rd annual meeting and awards ceremony Monday night. 

JFS wrote in its 2020 report that the organization, in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, provided financial support and other necessities to 7,000 people in the Greater Boston area affected by the pandemic this year—a 40% increase from the previous year. From delivering meals to older residents, to donating school supplies to students at their Build-a-Backpack events, to guiding residents applying for U.S. citizenship, JFS volunteers’ increased efforts expanded beyond the MetroWest. 

“I always like to say the JFS punches above our weight class. And did we ever do that over the course of the past year,” JFS president Josef Volman said.

Over Zoom, around 78 people attended the event, while others tuned in via Facebook Live.

Along with addressing the nonprofit’s achievements, JFS also reflected on the racial injustices that have impacted Black communities. Speaker Mohamad Ali, CEO of International Data Group, talked about how volunteer efforts and education can improve racial justice. 

“Educating ourselves is just so important,” Ali said. “We all need to understand the context and framework that created and perpetuates the injustices I’ve discussed.” 

Ali outlined how income inequality, climate change, health care and housing systems exacerbate racial inequities. He advised JFS members to combat against racial injustices by broadening their education, specifically asking attendees to read the New York Times 1619 project, by writer Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Since March of last year—workers were laid off and business buckled under the financial strain of the pandemic—JFS volunteers distributed groceries, toiletries, and hygiene products from the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Framingham, amounting to over 60,000 meals and 80,000 units of necessities, as stated in the report. 

Shira Goodman, CJP chair and board of directors advisory director, discussed CJP’s partnership with JFS to deliver kosher meals to individuals, particularly on Jewish holidays throughout the pandemic. 

“It’s not only the food.” Goodman said, “It’s that someone cares enough, comes to their house, drops something off, and says ‘We don’t want you to be alone during this holiday season’.”

JFS CEO Lino Covarrubias presented awards to several JFS volunteers. Seven JFS volunteers were given the CEO Roll Up the Sleeves Award, which “recognizes volunteers that have gone beyond the call of duty,” Lino said. Volunteers Michelle Cuata, who helped JFS clients prepare for the U.S. naturalization exams and practice English; Gus Freedman and Jackie Sand, who both helped older adults secure medical access; Carol Hengerle, who worked with food donations; George Hengerle, who worked as a college mentor to MassBay Community College business students; Renatha Marques de Souza Placido, who helped individuals through citizenship process; and Noel Raphael, who helped connect volunteers to older adults in the community; all received the award. 

For the Build-a-Backpack drive, 16 teenagers were also given the award. The recipients included Jared Berger, Jacob Darish, Alexis Fridman, Jessica Friedman, Eli Gaffin, Ben Gelber, Josie Happel, Mason Klein, Seth Korn, Ben Myers, Bridget O’Donnell, Erica O’Donnell, Hailey Rashes, Juliana Singer, and Rachel Wolf-Wagner.

The Ellen Youth Leadership Award was given to three volunteers: Ashley Morris, for delivering food and personal care items to people; Akshara Shankar, for creating the Many Hands Food Pantry and FarmHelp which connected food pantries and farms with food donations; and Leah Steinman, for helping clients and families at the Clothing Closet.

The Susan Lebold award, named after a former JFS volunteer, was given to Natalie Pesino, JFS program specialist for immigrant services, for helping clients with their citizenship applications. 

Lino also introduced five new Jewish Family Services of metroWest board members, including Sophie Hearne, Denise Rosenblum, Philip Strauss, Cesar Stewart-Morales, and Nadia Valentin.

Although the pandemic shows signs of abating, with rising vaccination rates and lifted mask mandates, the JFS said in the report that it would continue to focus on providing support to three groups during 2021: immigrant families with young children, the Jewish community, and isolated older adults. While JFS prepares for another year of volunteer work, Ali reminded JFS members that their efforts will alleviate inequalities in the Greater Boston area.

“While we educate ourselves and work to repair the broken world, we must do what we can to mitigate present suffering,” Ali said.

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Grace Mayer is a senior at Boston College studying marketing and journalism. She is also the head arts editor for Boston College’s newspaper, The Heights, where she’s covered the arts beat for three years. She is excited to report on a variety of beats for Framingham SOURCE this summer. You can contact her at gemayer007@gmail.com

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