Mitzvah Day volunteers choose to help rather than lounge

Dec. 25, 2012 @ 06:39 PM

They could have opted to watch television and snooze.

Instead, about 500 volunteers fanned out in Durham and Chapel Hill on Christmas Day to help others.

It was the seventh-annual Mitzvah Day held by the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, an organization representing Jewish communities in Durham, Orange, Chatham, Person and Alamance counties.

Mitzvah – the Hebrew word for “good deed” – was turned into a verb Tuesday at 25 locations in Durham and Chapel Hill.

“I like the idea that it brings the Jewish and non-Jewish communities together to help others on this wonderful day,” Steve Schauder, executive director of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, said before breakfast at the Charlotte and Dick Levin Jewish Community Center on Cornwallis Road.

After the meal, volunteers left for their assignments, including a visit to Urban Ministries of Durham.

Twelve-year-old Uriah Madar of Chapel Hill was looking forward to using his cooking skills at the downtown homeless shelter, where he and others prepared lunch for those who might otherwise have gone hungry.

“I’m a really good cook,” he said. “I took home economics [in school] last year. I think this is special, because we get to help out the needy.”

He was accompanied by his 15-year-old brother, Yaii Madar, and their father, Gil Madar, who said he wanted to give back to the community.

“Everybody is enjoying being with their families, and you see on TV that everybody is unwrapping presents and living well,” Gil Madar said. “And especially when we experience good times, we need to be aware of the ones who don’t have such luck.”

Megan Schafer, project leader for Mitzvah Day, said she and her husband, Steve Schafer, decided to help out at Urban Ministries instead of “just sitting at home watching television.”

“Why not go out into the community and help people who aren’t as fortunate?” Steve Schafer asked. “It’s a good feeling knowing that you’re helping people down on their luck and who need an extra hand, because we all do. They’re very appreciative, and it’s a good time.”

Al Jones, assistant kitchen manager at the nonprofit, said he depends on volunteers – especially on Christmas – to prepare the 200 midday meals for the needy. Lunch included a turkey casserole, fresh collards, oranges, bread, lemonade and desserts – fudge brownies and cherry and apple pie.

“I like giving back to the community,” Jones said. “Without this place, a lot of people would go hungry. So on Christmas, we try to dig a little deeper.”