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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Often, all it takes is one motivated person asking “Why not?” or “What if?” to start an initiative that does a lot of good, for a whole bunch of people.

Rivka and Malcolm Greenberg of Edison, members of Congregation Etz Ahaim, were newly married in 2011 when she asked if the local community did anything to help
families make good use of the excess food they received as mishloach manot on Purim. Rivka had lived in Far Rockaway, New York, and remembered the thick web of chesed organizations there that address a host of needs and opportunities. Malcolm, the Middlesex County native, told her that he was not aware of any such service or program locally.

Rivka started looking into possibilities of collecting the treats people didn’t need and transforming them into welcome gifts for those less fortunate. She teamed up with her son’s local Boy Scout troop in early 2012 and organized a collection of mishloach manot leftovers from friends and neighbors, designating service members living in the veterans’ residence in Highland Park as the recipients. She found that community members were only too happy to find a better use for all the snacks their families didn’t need. And the veterans were quite appreciative for the unexpected gifts. Rivka took note, and an annual chesed/community service project was born.

The next year, Rivka and Malcolm broadened the effort, publicizing the post-Purim mishloach manot collection on a number of local Facebook groups such as Highland Park Parents, Frum Highland Park, Edison Neighbors and others. They also expanded the list of beneficiaries to include the Ozanam family shelter in Edison, the Reformed Church of Highland Park’s afterschool program “The Cave,” and an afterschool program in Perth Amboy. The response from community members grew and the recipients were delighted.

In the years that followed, the Greenbergs have made some tweaks to the winning formula they developed, adding the SHILO organization in New Brunswick (Supporting Homeless and Innovatively Loving Others) in place of the Perth Amboy group and including a call for toiletries in the list of invited donations. The Jewish community’s response has continued to grow in volume and enthusiasm. 2018 marked the post-Purim treats and food collection’s seventh year of service.

Rivka and Malcolm involve their entire blended family in the project. Their four younger children Jack (15) Esti (14), Alexa (12), and Divi (12), along with friends enlisted by Esti and Divi, assist an hour or so each night in sorting the donations dropped off at the Greenbergs’ house. They make sure to weed out any food items that are opened or past their expiration dates. They also help as the donations are repackaged and delivered in gift bags on the Sunday before Pesach.

The repackaging process is no small effort. When it’s done there are roughly 16 large bags for the veterans’ residence, 50-100 bags for The Cave and the Ozanam shelter, and 20-30 bags for SHILO. Leftover food items are donated to the Highland Park Food Pantry.

Community members sing the praises of this exceptional community service project.

Jerry Salit, a member of Congregation Ahavas Achim, said, “Rivka and Malcolm give the community a way to donate any leftover food and package it up for people who need a little more. It is almost second nature for me to drop off a bag on their porch after Purim. While taking care of a large family these two people find time to do this. We should all strive to contribute a little more, and we can look at Rivka and Malcolm as great role models.”

Tova Renna, also a member of Ahavas Achim, said, “It’s so awesome that we’re able to give our shalach manos, which we weren’t going to use, to this tremendous effort, to benefit those truly in need in our community. My thanks go to Rivka and Malcolm for their phenomenal effort!”

Rachel Weintraub, a member of Congregation Etz Ahaim, said, “My husband David and I support this project because it’s a good way to consolidate our mishloach manot and get food we won’t or shouldn’t eat out of our house. I know they give the stuff to people who need it way more than I do. They are doing a big service to us all!”

Malcolm is philosophical about the effort. He says, “If we can put a smile on someone’s face, or share a treat with someone who wouldn’t get one otherwise, that’s a great thing for us to do.” Rivka shares that having known serious hardship in her youth, she knows what it is like to struggle. This project is personal to her and fulfills both the best intentions of Judaism and the best lessons of her life experience.

For more information on how to support this collection, and advice on how to set one up in another town, please contact Rivka at [email protected].

By Harry Glazer