When Dr. Matthew Keller accepted the Dr. Howard A. Mermelstein Leadership Award at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Annual Meeting last May, among his remarks was the following: that he and his wife Kristen were active in the community partly because they believed in “modeling volunteerism for our children.”
It seems to be working.
Last year, their 12-year-old son Jonah had an idea to help the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) get more donated produce. He would put up a table at the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market, tell people about the needs of the Pantry and about hunger in our community, and ask them to donate some produce to the Pantry.
Jonah and his family have volunteered at the SHCFP, so Jonah knows about local hunger, and about the value of fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. His parents helped him secure permission from the City, he made signs, and when the 2016 Farmers Market season began in June, Jonah and his table were there.
Looking back several weeks, Jonah admits it was a little hard to get started. He found asking strangers for donations – the cold sell – daunting at first. It was easier when people stopped by the table and asked him about the project. But he did like meeting the farmers and asking them to donate produce they had left over at the end of the day, which most have been happy to do.
Jonah’s project has grown tremendously; from the first head of lettuce to the current total of 750 pounds of fresh produce donated to SHCFP. Over that time, Jonah has gotten five of his friends and their families involved. He even started a calendar on SignUpGenius so people can sign up online for shifts! He plans to keep it going until the end of the season in November.
And it’s certainly a family affair. If people donate money instead of goods, it was decided to use those funds to buy more produce. That’s where Avielle, Jonah’s little sister, comes in. She has become the official produce shopper!
Jonah turns 13 next year and will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in Israel in June. Since he won’t be in Pittsburgh much of next season, he is working on a plan to find someone who will take over the table next year.
JF&CS applauds Jonah not just because he’s raising food for the Food Pantry, but because he’s shown others that anybody – including kids – can do something to help their community be a better place to live. It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference – just an idea and a little determination.
If you find yourself at the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market some Sunday, stop by Jonah’s table, and if you are able, please consider donating some fresh produce for the Pantry. Or make a contribution another way; make a donation now to provide fresh produce to the Pantry, contact Kathy to become a Pantry volunteer, or think up a project of your own that helps your neighborhood!