In a show of community strength and compassion, staff, volunteers and residents of the Jewish Association on Aging held bake sales at Weinberg Village and Weinberg Terrace on Thursday, March 17 to support the Shelton-Powell Memorial Fund.
“This is just an effort to support the families,” said Beverly Brinn, JAA’s director of development and community engagement.
Jerry Shelton, 35, was one of six victims killed on March 9 in Wilkinsburg in an ambush shooting during a backyard cookout. He was an employee of the JAA between January 2011 and January 2016 and was hired as a food service worker before being promoted to chef.
“He was very close to people in the dietary department,” said Sharyn Rubin, JAA’s director of resident and community services.
Sharon Milton, a JAA employee for 17 years, worked alongside Shelton in the Weinberg Village kitchen. “He was much younger than myself, but I consider him a good friend,” she said. “One thing about this building is we all pull together. We have bake sales every few months; this one we wanted to benefit Jerry’s family.”
Displayed on tables in Weinberg Village’s Winter Garden were chocolate chip cookies, frosted green cupcakes, pink iced treats, glazed doughnuts, bagels, assorted pies, brownies, a sheet cake and blueberry muffins. There was even hot chocolate.
Between 40 and 50 people brought in home-baked items; another 20 to 30 people dropped off store bought-goods for sale, said Brinn.
“It’s a beautiful outpouring.”
Tanya Bielski-Braham was one of several staff members volunteering at the bake sale.
“We had people who bought one cookie and gave us a $20 bill,” she said.
Marylee Smithwick, a caregiver at Weinberg Village, was offered change for her purchases. Smithwick told the volunteers to keep the money.
“It’s very hard for me to see [Jessica Shelton] go through this. I would do more if I could,” Smithwick said.
Three of Jessica Shelton’s children (including Jerry) and two nieces were killed in the shooting.
“I can’t imagine her loss,” said Smithwick.
“I got a bagel, cookies, brownies, truffles; I got the whole bit,” Bill Betts said, as a volunteer packaged the items.
Betts added that he had already sent money to the Shelton-Powell Memorial Fund (at Citizens Bank) but used the bake sale as a means to further assist the family.
“I already sent money to the bank. I just wanted to support them in any way I could,” he said.
Throughout the day, staff walked up to the bake sale and dropped off checks without taking any items, said Brinn. Several residents did the same, added Rubin.
Heidi Brown, scheduling coordinator at the JAA, mentioned other acts of generosity.
“[This morning] one of our housekeepers brought residents down and paid for whatever they wanted, and that’s on top of what he bought for his kids at home,” she said.
By day’s end, nearly $2,800 was raised for the fund.
Such support was not surprising, said Brinn. “We are one of the largest employers in Squirrel Hill. There’s over 475 staff. If something happens here, it impacts a lot of people.”
Besides contributing to the bake sale, other opportunities, including bereavement counseling, have been offered to the staff, said Rubin.
“It’s really the people you have surrounding you that help you get through difficult times,” said Brinn. “We’re like a big family.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.