For a mitzvah project leading up to her bat mitzvah three years ago at Temple B’nai Sholom in Rockville Centre, L.I., Jenna Talesnick crocheted baby blankets for those in need. She liked helping others so much that it has now become a big part of her life.
In her search for other projects, Talesnick learned of the Snack Wrap Program run by Rock and Wrap it Up!, a national, independent anti-poverty think tank based in Cedarhurst, L.I.
Along with a friend, Jenna Mantell, Talesnick contacted administrators at her former school, Covert Elementary School, and received permission to place a box in the cafeteria into which students could place extra or unwanted snacks that were still in their original packaging.
“We sent a flyer home asking parents to send their child with an extra snack once a week to put in the box,” Talesnick said.
Each week beginning in September 2007, they picked up the box and took the snacks — which averaged about 50 each week — to Bethany House in Roosevelt, L.I., an emergency shelter for homeless women and their children. This year, they hope to expand the project to all four elementary schools in Rockville Centre.
Rock and Wrap it Up! was founded in 1991 by Syd Mandelbaum of Cedarhurst with inspiration from his parents, both Holocaust survivors. While growing up, his parents used to tell him “stories of how they starved in the concentration camps.”
“They often talked about waking up and finding somebody next to them who had died overnight from hunger,” he said. “They would talk about going to bed hungry and waking up hungry and never forgetting that feeling. When they were liberated on the same day — May 8, 1945 — they were both skin and bones; they weighed less than 100 pounds.”
“Those stories got to me. I always felt that if I could do anything in my life to help end hunger and poverty in this country, I would like to do it,” he added.
His organization, with more than 5,000 volunteers in 500 cities, has arranged for volunteers, churches, shelters, food pantries and agencies to pickup prepared but un-served food from rock concerts, TV shows, movies and sporting events for food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens. Through its efforts, more than 60 million people have been fed.
Sharona Hall of Lawrence, L.I., the national director of advocacy for Rock and Wrap it Up!, said she was so impressed with the snack program that her two daughters, Chloe, 11, and Alexandra, 9, decided in January to start the program at their school, the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence.
“Every day at the end of the day I saw how many snacks were in the bin,” Chloe said. “There were nachos and pretzels and popcorn — stuff like that.”
Alexandra noted that drinks, including water bottles, also made it into the bin.
“The snacks went to poor people who don’t have snacks,” she said.
Thall said the program was begun as part of a “greening” effort at the school that included healthy eating and not wasting food.
“We as moms pack too many snacks for our kids during the day and this program gives them an opportunity to donate a snack that they did not eat that day,” she said. “We collected a ton of snacks at the school and brought them to city kids who did not have snacks in school or when they attended after-school programs.”
A special drive was held right after Purim to encourage youngsters to donate all of the “left over candy bars, jelly beans and sodas,” Thall said. “We filled six large trash bags with snacks. ... These kids come from homes where they have everything they want and it’s good to instill in them the concept of tzedakah.”
HAFTR was the first Jewish school on Long Island to participate in the snack program, and Rose Foley, national school program director for Rock and Wrap it Up!, said she hopes to interest other Jewish schools in the project.
“It’s hard to break in,” she said. “Usually the only way it will work if someone from the inside comes to us. Once that happens, it’s a beautiful marriage.”
In addition to the snack program, Talesnick and Mantell convinced Rock and Wrap it Up! to let them conduct a prom dress drive for those in need.
“It’s a common thing in other places and we know that in Hempstead there are a lot of girls who can’t afford dresses for their prom,” Talesnick said. “We went around town and got stores to put flyers in their windows asking people to donate used dresses, unused makeup samples, shoes, prom dresses and purses.”
In all, some 450 dresses were dropped off at three collection sites in Rockville Centre, including the library. About half had not been dry-cleaned and Talesnick said Rave Cleaners in Rockville Centre agreed to clean them for free.
“Mothers donated their old dresses, girls donated their old prom dresses and wedding bridesmaids outfits,” Talesnick said. “I had a lot of dresses from my bat mitzvah year that I would never wear again. I’m pretty tall and I’m sure they fit some of the girls.”
Each day with the help of their parents, Talesnick and Mantell picked up the dresses, sorted them in her house by size and color and hung them on racks donated by the National Council of Jewish Women. That group also arranged for a large truck to pick up the 10 racks of dresses and take them to Hempstead High School, where they were handed out to waiting teenagers.
“Hempstead High School had contacted other local schools with needy students and hundreds of kids came,” Talesnick said. “Not everyone found something they liked, but most did.”
A number of dresses were left over and were donated to the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, L.I.
This year, Talesnick said she and Mantell are co-presidents of the local chapter of B’nai B’rith Girls and that they plan to enlist the help of those in their chapter when they again conduct the prom dress drive.
For further information about the Rock and Wrap it Up! program, contact Rose Foley at (516)-318-5989 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.