Jessica Ingram will be graduating from the New York School of Education this spring, and has received a Masters in Jewish Communal Service from the HUC-JIR School of Jewish Communal Service in LA. She has served as the soup kitchen coordinator for the past year. She writes:
Last week, the New York campus community came together to celebrate 21 years of serving the local population by feeding those in need. For the past two decades, the school has opened its doors, hosting a weekly soup kitchen run by students and community volunteers. The soup kitchen is funded completely by the generosity of donors, and this annual celebration has become the cornerstone of soup kitchen’s fundraising efforts.
This year, the planning committee decided to shake things up and organized a black-tie soiree for the community, complete with a red carpet, cocktails and appetizers, a photographer and music. There was also a silent auction, with donations ranging from a commemorative edition of Lawrence Kushner’s Book of Letters, Knicks, Yankees and Giants tickets, dinner for six with Rabbi Ellenson, a weekend on Fire Island, flying lessons, gift certificates from local vendors and other services provided by faculty and students. Despite the cold, there was a great turnout, everyone looked amazing and had a fantastic evening. And, at the end of the night, we had raised about $5,000 for the soup kitchen. Donations from rabbis, educators, alumni and other supporters are still rolling in from around the country. We are confident that we will meet our goal and we are so grateful to everyone who is helping us do so.
The event would not have been a success without the dedication of the students who spent the last few months working with the administration, reaching out to the community and collecting auction items, publicizing the event and recruiting other students to help make everything happen. Their hard work was evident in every detail, and we thank them as well.
As the coordinator of the soup kitchen, I was happy to have the opportunity to watch this committee come together and develop the event from start to finish. So much of the soup kitchen volunteer effort takes place on Monday afternoons and revolves around direct service: food preparation, clothing distribution, interaction with our guests and education of the students who come from local synagogues to volunteer. The annual soiree is an opportunity for more students to get involved and to further develop their leadership skills.
Indeed, working in the soup kitchen gives us all the opportunity to push ourselves in new ways and put into practice the skills we are developing at HUC that will help make us better clergy and professionals. We often joke that we are the executive committee of a small non-profit organization, but this isn’t so far from the truth. Each week we attempt to build community as we supervise dozens of volunteers and educate student volunteers about the Jewish values that inform our work and we ensure that they are prepared for the experience of volunteering with a population pushed to the margins of society. We work hard so that our community volunteers, who essentially serve as our lay leaders, are aware of the bigger HUC picture that shapes how the soup kitchen runs so that they are engaged and effective partners. We also strive to effectively manage change as we confront unexpected challenges, including the responsibility we share for our overseeing our budget, especially in light of the ongoing financial crisis and greater demand on our services. We spend hours as communication managers, coordinating with vendors and groups from local congregations, and, as the soiree highlights, we also serve as development officers, PR reps, and recruitment officers.
As I list these tasks and accomplishments I am still surprised by what it takes to run the soup kitchen each week, and I am so honored to be a part of it all. I don’t think any of us could have predicted the opportunities and challenges the soup kitchen would provide when we first became involved as student leaders and it is incredibly rewarding that we regularly get to meet alumni who return to volunteer with their own students. They are always eager to share how their own experiences at the soup kitchen impacted their leadership and careers. We do not take these lessons lightly, and I know that we are all proud to be part of an institution with such a strong commitment to service and we are grateful for the opportunity to exercise our own leadership and learn from each other.
We thank the entire HUC community for their ongoing commitment to the soup kitchen, and we look forward to hosting many of your congregations, schools, youth groups and families in the future.
For more information on how to get involved, please email HUCSoupKitchen@gmail.com.