Thousands of Local Volunteers Focus on the Needs of Others During ‘Good Deeds Week’

More than 60 organizations and thousands of volunteers took part in ‘Good Deeds Week’ in the Greater Washington, D.C., area from April 7-14. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

The annual “Good Deeds Week,” a global event centered around volunteerism, saw Jewish organizations across the world and throughout the Greater Washington, D.C., area providing services and programs for people around the region both inside and outside the Jewish community.

The weeklong event, which took place from April 7-14, was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. The Federation’s Sara & Samuel J. Lessans Good Deeds Week brought together over 60 organizations and thousands of volunteers for dozens of service projects and events all over the DMV area.

Good Deeds Week comes from an idea that was initially created in Israel by philanthropist Shari Arison in 2007. It began as Good Deeds Day, something that is still celebrated worldwide on April 14, but was turned into a weeklong effort in the DMV area during the pandemic so that more people would get the chance to volunteer.

“Good Deeds Day is an Israeli nonprofit that was established by an Israeli philanthropist named Shari Arison. And her belief is that any good deed, big or small, can change the world. And there was a sense that if everyone’s doing good deeds at the same time, that can really have a great impact,” said Manny Menchel, the Federation’s chief impact officer.

Menchel said that the Washington, D.C., area historically has the greatest participation in Good Deeds Week/Day in North America, with over 2,000 volunteers in 2023 as part of 4 million worldwide.

He added that such widespread participation speaks to the fabric of the local community and the great willingness for people to do good for their neighbors. The events aren’t limited to the Jewish community, with most events being open to the public and some having an impact and benefiting recipients of service beyond the Jewish community.

The weeklong effort runs smoothly and is so successful primarily because the Federation serves as an organizer and mobilizer of the community, and acts as a central hub of the volunteer activities taking place throughout the DMV region.

The Federation also provides support to these organizations and offers resources to help them get various events and initiatives off the ground. In addition, it provides a means through which people can connect with different organizations and find the best way
to volunteer.

“We really look to encourage them to think creatively about what would be meaningful for their respective organizations and the constituents their organizations serve, and to build a program around Good Deeds Week that responds to their own style and interest and proclivities,” Menchel said.

One such event was done throughout the week by the Jewish Social Services Agency, which had two volunteer events that took center stage, with a vase painting drive to hold flower arrangements for hospice patients and a Passover basket giving effort.

The initiative for hospice patients is part of the ongoing work that JSSA does with hospice organizations, providing support for patients and their families. It includes resources in the form of flowers from a partnership with Trader Joe’s that’s been going on for a year, where they give excess flowers to JSSA for these patients and their families.

“The Good Deeds Week activity was to get volunteers to paint vases so that we can put those flowers into nicely decorated vases that our community has made, showing the whole community’s care and connection to the people that are in hospice and to brighten their days at times when things are pretty tough with them,” said JSSA CEO Todd Schenk.

He added that having the vases made personally by community members, especially children, provides a huge boost to the mood of these patients and it allows them to feel the care and warmth that the community shows them.

The week also provides opportunities for education on top of service, as seen by the work done by Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, which had an event and a concert for kids on April 7, in which several Jewish organizations and synagogues participated.

These organizations set up tables and had two hours’ worth of activities for the kids, including bracelet making with the Pozez JCC and Grow Jewish Families, letter writing to soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces with Friends of the IDF, bird feeder creation projects with Agudas Achim Congregation, and many more.

“As a Jewish Day School, we really value the idea of giving back to those who are maybe less fortunate than you and taking that value and continuing it on into your life,” said Taylor May, Gesher Jewish Day School’s director of admissions.

The work done in conjunction with this year’s Good Deeds Week spread across the community in all aspects of life and the organizers saw a boost in their efforts this year given the increased need that Menchel said was present in the community, and it is something everyone is looking to promote beyond just that one week.

“We have a wonderful, caring and compassionate community. People are constantly thinking, not just about themselves, but about where they sit in an overall community, how to show that care and concern and how to help make our community better, and people do it in lots of ways,” Schenk said.

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