There’s a rhythm to the activities in Room 106 when the Thoughtful Thursdays team assembles. The conversations begin almost as soon as the volunteers arrive, with only a few pauses along the way for instructions about the cans, bottles, packages, and educational lessons that will be included in the bags for 86 Temple Head Start students.
The assembly line soon reaches full steam. Bags are filled and then moved next door to the Head Start office until the task is complete. An inventory for the next bag is later taken and plans are made for the coming month.
The atmosphere is comfortable, collaborative, and productive. Perhaps that’s why a dozen or more volunteers from Achduth Vesholom, B’nai Jacob, and the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne help on a given morning to assemble Thoughtful Thursdays’ bags.
“We have a purpose, but we’re also a social group,” says Chair Jamie Berger, who co-founded the nationally recognized project and frequently makes several trips a week to the Temple to drop off items for the bags. “Social action is our mission, but the social part is key, too. We have a big core group.”
Federation President Fran Adler explains: “It’s fun to get together and visit with people and feel you’re helping the community at the same time.”
The group will prepare the final bags of the school year on May 6, completing its fifth year of service later this month by sending large packs of toilet paper home with the Head Start families. While the social part of their work comes mainly during bag assembly mornings, the Thoughtful Thursdays team includes many more volunteers than the ones dubbed the “Bag Ladies.”
Under Jamie’s leadership, the mitzvah project involves the efforts of many. Kathy Sider and Cindi Wismer are among the shoppers who look for bargains and then schlep dozens of items to the Temple. Kay Safirstein has a knack for buying child-friendly items and tissues. Arlene Leib finds bargains on jello and pudding. Jan Finkel arrives early on assembly days to make sure everything is organized. Ongoing help comes from Jaki Schreier, Micki Kepes, and Bonnie Smith.
The gathering of items is not as easy as it seems, such as when the team needs 86 winter hats and gloves within budget or needs to transport 86+ rotisserie chickens from Sam’s Club for the Head Start students and staff.
Jordan Berger, who co-founded Thoughtful Thursdays with her mother, continues to assist while away at Cornell University by writing grants to help fund the project. The Dr. Harry W. Salon Foundation contributes generously, along with many members of the Jewish community and local businesses.
Janet Katz has a relationship with local farmers to provide fresh produce. Jan Sarratore, a retired teacher, creates educational activities and works with Head Start parents and teachers to share ways to foster learning. Talia Bugel translates the materials into Spanish. Cindi Wismer creates recipe cards, shops online for bargains, and helps with organization.
“One of the perks of working on Thoughtful Thursdays is the immediate effect that this social action project has on the families,” Cindi says. “This bridges nutrition with education, as well as provides hands-on help with adult literacy to help preschoolers.”
The Junior Youth Group has gotten involved collecting items and assembling projects. Rita O’Neill sponsors the turkey giveaways at holiday time. Martha Replane helps with correspondence. Beth Zweig takes photos to promote the program. Many volunteers bake for parent appreciation luncheons. Temple staff members Sally Trotter, Bonnie Crubaugh, Bonnie Pomerantz, and Clint Rossiter also go the extra mile to assist.
Jamie hopes the tikkun olam effort continues to capture the enthusiasm of the Jewish community when Thoughtful Thursdays begins again next school year. More volunteers are welcome.