“It’s so important for us to reach out and help others, especially during this time,” says Alison Caller, chair of Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Women’s Philanthropy (WP). Caller works alongside Carrie Goldhoff, WP’s vice chair. The two have been hard at work this year, coordinating a number of WP events to help make sure our community continues to feel connected despite COVID-19 restrictions.
“It is important that we provide creative programming to engage women and keep them involved and connected. We surveyed our community and continually ask for input so that we can provide relevant and meaningful programs,” Caller continues. “So, Carrie and I worked with the team to come up with creative programming that would engage women to keep them involved and connected to one another.”
Caller says the projects they came up with were not only important, individually, “but they make people aware of the bigger challenges in our Jewish community and the Greater Cincinnati community. To me, that is the importance of Women’s Philanthropy.” One of the first events WP took on just as the COVID-19 lockdown was beginning was teaming up with Most Valuable Kids to help their Girls with Pearls program. The project was originated by Chrissie Blatt and Sherri Friedman. “We put together three different gift packages for the girls,” Caller explains. The packages were themed and sent to the girls throughout the summer to help keep them engaged. The themes included Baking, Sleep Over, and Wellness, and women were able to sign up to purchase various items for the packages. “There were about four or five different items per pack, and we put them in bags to be delivered to the girls. I think about what it would be like to be cut off from school and friends. We really wanted this to help give the girls something to look forward to.” As the High Holidays approached, WP invited everyone to what they called the “Challah-day” events, which helped supply Jewish Family Service Heldman Family Food Pantry with fresh challahs during the holidays. Goldhoff says donations were made up of homemade challah, and kosher challah purchased at Marx Bagels.
“About a week later,” she explains, “we had a virtual challah baking demonstration, hosted by Rini Levy.”
“It was wonderful to see everyone not only engaging in the baking, but bringing with them what the holiday means, and expressing our sadness that we weren’t able to be together in person,” Caller adds. “It really filled the spot for this year.”
WP took on a new event during the holiday season, aptly referred to as the Honey Cakes Mitzvah. They purchased and delivered honey cakes to every Jewish senior resident of Cedar Village and The Kenwood. “The idea came to us when we were planning another event, and someone asked what was being done for our seniors,” explains Ariel Weiss, Jewish Federation campaign director and interim Women’s Philanthropy director. The team worked quickly to put something together in time for the holidays. “We think it was received really well,” she says. “We’ve had phone calls and letters saying it really meant a lot to those who received one, knowing that someone was thinking about them.”
An annual signature event is the WP’s Thanksgiving Mitzvah. Every year, women collect everything that is needed to cook a Thanksgiving meal and then package it into bags to be given out at the JFS Heldman Family Food Pantry. But this year, because of social distancing requirements, the process was markedly different.
“On November first, we had a drive-by drop-off,” Weiss explains. This year, people stayed in their cars while volunteers in personal protective gear unloaded the donations, helping limit the number of interactions. “It’s not really what we usually do in terms of community engagement, or WP engagement. But we also have a responsibility to keep people safe.”
The weekend after the drop-off, Jaynie Levinson, the Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Development officer — along with Caller, Goldhoff and event hosts Jessica Kuresman, Patti Rothfuss, Miriam Hodesh, Shari Schulhoff, and their families — got together to package the bags. “They all stayed as distant as possible,” says Levinson. “Staying far away from the other groups, they all helped package the different goods that we collected. At the end of the day we had more than 100 packages, both kosher and non-kosher, for JFS clients for the holidays.”
For Caller, the WP’s mission goes beyond packaging meals for community members. She believes the work WP does to support other women, children, and those experiencing food insecurity “is not only a mitzvah, but has the benefit of creating and engaging a community, forging friendships, and bonding people in a common goal.”
“I am continually inspired and motivated by the women I have the honor of working with,” says Weiss. “Alison and Carrie are stars, and their passion for taking care of those in need and for getting other women involved is totally contagious.” The need to sustain and create a vibrant Jewish Cincinnati, even with the limitations in place because of COVID-19, is important, she adds. “That’s the role of Women’s Philanthropy. We need to be there for each other, even though we aren’t physically seeing each other.”
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is located at 8499 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, visit www.jewishcincinnati.org. The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: Together we can do almost anything.