Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Chesed Center

One of the most amazing hours we spent in Israel was the hour we spent with Avichai Amusi.
Nine years ago Avichai initiated the Mercaz Chesed center in S’derot that he runs full time as a volunteer.

The Chesed Center, under Avichai’s leadership, manages to accomplish the following:
  • reclaim food that would otherwise be unused (produce grown in the area by local kibbutzim and moshavim, (farms) that’s not “pretty” enough to be purchased)

  • package the reclaimed food into bags to be distributed to hungry people in S’derot and the surrounding area

  • distribute the food bags to approximately 600 families a week

  • prepare and feed lunch to approximately 150 additional people a day

  • maintain a clothing center where people can buy a “gently used” or brand-new (donated) article of clothing – for a few shekels

  • run a young parenting room, filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a wide assortment of toys and games, and other baby/toddler equipment – all available for parents to borrow and then return when they are done.

  • distribute formula and diapers (when they have them to give away) to families that need them

  • provide an opportunity for parent education and for parents to meet and talk with others.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it? That one organization can manage to accomplish so much – efficiently.

Even more amazing is that all the work is done by volunteers. Avichai volunteers* his time and his energy. Volunteers pack the food bags. Other volunteers help cook and clean up after meals. People donate clothing (new and “gently used). More people have donated supplies for the parenting room.

All donated.
All used to fill critical needs.
Without spending money on overhead.
Just doing.

Look closely at the picture on the left. The tables are cleaned and ready to go for the next meal.

Notice the flowers on the table? I don't know about you, but we don't usually have flowers on our table unless we have a guest - or it's a holiday.

Flowers on a table when hungry people are being feed. To me that speaks to several things: hiddur mitzvah/"making beatiful" the performance of a mitzvah; hachnasat orchim/welcoming guests; and -- perhaps most important -- kavod/respect.

I saw the same look in Avichai’s eyes as I saw in the Rabbanit Kapach’s eyes: the awareness that the work they are engaged in is sacred work. That it must be done. And that, somehow, people will be generous in donating their time, energy, money and stuff in order to get the job done.

Truly Mitzvah heroes.

A special thanks to Karyn London, of Atzum, who was willing to edit this piece before I published it. Todah rabbah, Karyn!

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