“For us, working at the Pantry is performing a mitzvah. It is a way to reach out to the community and be a very small part of providing assistance for those who are in crisis and struggling to put food on the table.” Joanie and Mona volunteer together in JFS Orlando’s Pearlman Emergency Food Pantry once a month. Two friends with the most generous and determined hearts, they each came to know JFS through differing experiences.
Joanie first got involved with JFS as a supporter. A while back, JFS was reaching out for donations to help struggling families who were relocating to the Orlando area. “My family made the decision to donate the majority of my mother’s furniture to a young Russian family shortly after her passing,” she recalls. “We had many options but for us [choosing JFS] was a no brainer. Knowing that someone would be able to use the furniture to make a Jewish home actually helped us deal during a very difficult time.” Then later, when it came time for her youngest son’s Mitzvah Project, he and his close friend decided to pool their earned money together and purchase toys and games to fill a red flyer wagon for the holiday time. “To this day, I can still see the look of pride and excitement on their faces when they delivered the gifts to the JFS building. They truly understood the sense of giving…”
Mona first came to JFS in a very different way. She was a single mother, raising two small children, trying to put herself through college to make a better life for her family. “We struggled and needed to ask for help to survive,” she explains. “One of the agencies I contacted was JFS. They paid my electric bill and gave us food.”
As part of Congregation Beth Am’s Mitzvah Brigade, Joanie always planned on participating in their monthly Pantry shift once she retired. Despite being diagnosed with two rare eye diseases which ultimately left her legally blind, she was determined to still find a way to give her time for her community. Thankfully, she found out that, with teamwork, she could still volunteer with JFS. She asked her friend Mona to sign up with her and they have had a permanent volunteer slot every month since.
Joanie and Mona love volunteering at JFS. For starters, the logistics are easy and well-organized. “The staff have the inner workings of the Pantry in such an organized and simplified manner that it is so easy to come in and pick up where the shift before us leaves off,” explains Joanie. “The guidelines are clear, materials are readily available, support is a phone call away if needed and, most importantly, the staff provides a welcoming environment for all to work in.”
They also enjoy seeing the outpouring of support for the Pantry. “We actually chose a day and shift that we knew would mean unpacking and putting away donated food items from local stores,” says Joanie. “It is refreshing to see how much support this organization receives from local grocers, other agencies and from the community in order to keep the shelves, refrigerators and freezers as full as possible.”
Of course, it is also a direct way to help their community. “For me,” says Mona, “it is an especially good feeling to be able to pay back and give families what they need.” They can see first-hand the impact of their work. “Seeing the look on the faces of the people who receive the food and hearing their heartfelt thank you often brings tears to our eyes,” they confess. “We can only imagine what they go through but take comfort in knowing that organizations such as JFS are there for them to find a path to move forward. We are so proud to be associated with JFS.”
While volunteering at JFS has been put on hold for the safety and health of all involved during the coronavirus pandemic, Joanie and Mona have still kept busy. From connecting virtually with family, friends and synagogue members (Joanie is the Co-President at Congregation Beth Am) to exercising and playing Mah Jongg online to cleaning their homes (“Our homes have never been cleaner than in the past 10 months!”) to babysitting (Mona was blessed with her first grandchild in May!), they have taken this time to focus on their community in new ways.
Thank you, Joanie and Mona, for your determination to give back to our community and for being generous with your time for others. We miss you here at JFS and we can’t wait until we can welcome you, and all of our other volunteers, back!
Interested in helping your community by volunteering with JFS? Roles include helping out in the Pantry and behind-the-scenes office assistance. Although due to the pandemic volunteering at JFS Orlando is currently on hold, you can still begin your application for when the program re-opens by contacting us at 407-644-7593 ext.249 or Audrey.Cohen@JFSorlando.org.