Temple Sholom Volunteers Fill in the Blanks to Address Childhood Hunger

For Greenwich 7th grader Joshua Katz, selecting a mitzvah project for his Bar Mitzvah was not just about starting a life-long Jewish commitment to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), but also an opportunity to develop a partnership between Temple Sholom and Filling in the Blanks, an organization that has grown close to his heart.

Temple Sholom volunteers Joshua Katz, Shelby Katz, Lori Baden, and Scott Kramer stand with leaders from Filling in the Blanks. Contributed photo

Filling in the Blanks operates out of Norwalk, and fights childhood hunger by providing children in need with meals on the weekends. More than 117,000 children in Connecticut live in food insecure households, and since the onset of COVID-19, Connecticut’s food insecurity rate has increased from 13.4% to 22.8%.

Joshua, who has always been passionate about helping those in need of shelter, food and clothing, reached out to family and friends to support his online food drive benefitting Filling in the Blanks’ weekend bags, which are used to bridge the gap between school meals from Fridays to Mondays.

“They can’t just go to their pantry and refrigerator – they go hungry,” Joshua said. “When I learned that there are hungry kids in Greenwich, I realized that these kids are on the soccer fields with me, they are in our schools, they ride their bikes all around. They are here and hungry and I didn’t know it. I need to help these kids and I will continue to help these kids. We (as a greater Jewish community) will to continue to help these kids.”

Joshua and his mother, Shelby Katz, connected with Scott Kramer, Chair of Temple Sholom’s social action committee, to take the project even further. Kramer coordinated a Temple-wide virtual food drive, which would culminate with a hands-on meal packing event at the Filling in the Blanks warehouse on March 7. More than 840 weekend meal bags were packaged by 20 volunteers, with more than 40 Temple families contributing to the food collection.

essica Esterkin and Shelby Katz prepare weekend bag meals during Temple Sholom’s packing event at Filling in the Blanks.

“As a member of the Temple Sholom’s Board of Trustees and Chair of the social action committee, I am always amazed at the way our community comes together to help those in need,” Kramer said. “This past year has been challenging for everyone, so when we decided to partner with Filling in the Blanks, I wasn’t sure what kind of support we would get. When we began communicating these efforts, the Temple Sholom community stepped up right away. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Shelby Katz said, “We are so lucky that Temple Sholom provides organized ways for us to volunteer. Our family has always helped Neighbor to Neighbor through Temple Sholom’s many food drives and on our own, so we knew there was a need, but underestimated the scope and severity of the food insecurity problem in Greenwich. Our packing event at the warehouse was rewarding and a great opportunity for us to connect with each other.”

The Katz family hopes to make the packing event an annual or bi-annual staple in Temple Sholom’s social action programming, as well as expand their efforts to greater Greenwich.

“I envision Temple Sholom members wanting to repeat the experience, and I see this partnership growing in frequency and involvement with time,” Shelby said. “I believe that the larger Jewish Greenwich community wants to help hungry children and families in our own town. Our Jewish community is amazingly generous, collaborative and dedicated to helping those in need.”

Temple Sholom will be hosting its annual Mitzvah Project Fair/Social Action Engagement Fair virtually this year on Sunday, April 25 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm on Zoom as a free resource for those looking for mitzvah projects or local social action opportunities to volunteer with. Contact Lori Baden at [email protected] if you would like to attend.