From playing bingo with senior citizens, to serving meals at soup kitchens, to making sock monkeys for needy children, more than 400 Jewish Pittsburghers will be putting Christmas Eve day to good use.
Mitzvah Day, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, will see community volunteers stationed at nearly 50 social service sites around the city during the annual event designed to encourage good works and good will.
While Mitzvah Day is generally held on Christmas, it was scheduled this year for Christmas Eve, Friday, Dec. 24, so that it would not conflict with Shabbat.
With early registration for the event opened on Nov. 23 to Federation donors, and general registration opened on Nov. 30, 430 people have already volunteered, exceeding last year’s total number of participants.
“We have had an overwhelming response,” said Tracy Royston, community leadership development director of the Federation. “Usually we have a ballpark number of about 400 participants. Now, we have 430, with minimal advertising, and I am assuming we will get even more.”
The increase in the number of volunteers is likely due to positive word-of-mouth, said Stacey Reibach, who, along with Dana Himmel is co-chairing the event.
“I think the word spreads,” Reibach said. “Friends tell friends about Mitzvah Day, and it sounds like a great opportunity.”
Reibach will take her own two children to one of the Kane Center senior citizen sites to play bingo with the residents.
“What I like is that there are great volunteer opportunities for people of all ages,” Reibach said.
In addition to projects involving serving food and visiting with the elderly and the infirm, some new opportunities for involvement are available this year, Royston said, with an emphasis on family-friendly sites.
For example, volunteers of all ages will meet at the Jewish Community Center to craft inspirational quote books for single mothers and their children who were previously homeless. The books will go to HEARTH, which provides supportive services and housing to empower families to become independent.
Also new this year, and appropriate for families, is the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, where 20 volunteers are needed to clean toys.
Volunteer sites are located all over the city, with many opportunities available in Monroeville, the North Hills and the South Hills, especially at centers for senior citizens. Families may engage in activities such as dancing and exercising with local seniors.
At Concordia of the South Hills, volunteers will accompany senior residents to a Christmas party.
Other popular volunteer sites include Family House, where volunteers will serve and clean up Christmas dinner for families who are unable to have traditional Christmas dinners in their own homes, and the Jubilee Kitchen, where volunteers will serve dinner to its guests.
While the original intention of Mitzvah Day was to let Christmas-observing employees have the day off work, volunteers cannot entirely replace paid staff at most of these sites, Royston said. Mitzvah Day does, however, allow some of the sites to reduce the staff on Christmas Eve so that more employees can be home with their families, she said.
“There are a lot of nonprofits that are anticipating Mitzvah Day all year,” she added.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)