At 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, Maddy Greenstein already had markers in hand and was decorating a lunch bag. The 10-year-old drew a castle on one side of the bag and a smiling flower on the other.
Good Deeds Day had barely begun, but already the atrium at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington was bustling with adults and children working on projects to help other people.
“You can’t keep people from doing good deeds in this town,” said Tracey Dorfman, the center’s chief program officer.
Maddy’s decorated bag was destined to hold a lunch prepared by other volunteers, and from there would go to a hungry individual at a county shelter.
The JCC in Rockville was one of three central locations for Good Deeds Day, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. The others were Washington DC Jewish Community Center and Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax.
Good Deeds Day involved some 6,000 people, according to Sam Rosenbaum, JConnect volunteer coordinator for the Federation.
“There’s an enormous amount of hidden poverty in the Greater Washington area,” he said of the needs that Good Deeds Day responded to.
Participation has doubled in each of the program’s three years, he said. And organizers continue to try to introduce creative projects. At the Rockville JCC, there were craft projects for sick kids, while others made snuggly blankets for children going through trauma. At several tables, volunteers wrote letters for Israeli soldiers and people who are alone.
Many of the deeds were done outside the host buildings. Teams of volunteers went to work on urban rehabilitation projects. They painted an emergency men’s shelter in Washington and helped refurbish private homes.
Others removed non-native plants at Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary near the George Washington Memorial Parkway. And they cleaned up trash in Matthew Henson Park in Wheaton.
Rosenbaum said the goal of Good Deeds Day is more than just the deeds.
“We took it on three years ago to give people another way to come together as a Jewish community,” he said.
The opportunity to help others attracted more than just area Jews. Participants also included Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Bradley Hill Presbyterian Church and Islamic Society of Germantown.
“It’s very meaningful being with like-minded people,” said Lynn Morgan as she and two of her children put together a growing pile of cheese sandwiches, one of Good Deeds Day’s big projects. “At home we try imparting to them that tikkun olam, repairing the world, is part of being in the community.”
Twelve-year-old Daniel and Kate, 9, demonstrated how to make a sandwich using two slices of cheese. Later, two sandwiches would be put into a lunch bag, along with a bottle of water, trail mix and a banana. Altogether, volunteers prepared 5,000 meals, Rosenbaum said.
As Good Deeds Day got underway, members of BBYO and NCSY youth groups left the JCC to work on projects for the teen J-Serve program, timed to coincide with Good Deeds Day. Another 40 organizations and congregations held their own service events.
Among their projects, J-Serve participants cooked, cleaned and played with residents of Becky’s House women’s shelter and participated in the “Senior Prom” at the Jewish Council for the Aging’s Misler Center in Rockville.
At Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, volunteers formed an assembly line to make 300 lunches for DC Central Kitchen.
Down the hallway from where sandwiches were being made at the JCC of Greater Washington, 7-year-old Alex Simon was moving between big round tables, each covered with small plastic bottles of toiletries. She and the other volunteers were sorting them into boxes. From there, they would be put into plastic bags to be delivered to a half-dozen shelters.
“We’re sorting which is shampoo,” she said. There was also a box for bar soap and one for bath gel.
Those that didn’t belong ended up in the miscellaneous box.
Asked what miscellaneous is, Alex said, “I don’t really know.”