Working Hard to Eliminate the Hardships of Hunger

The week before the Sept. 3 Bar Mitzvah of Sheldon Satenstein, bags of kosher grocery staples seemed to pour into the social hall of Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester.

No, they weren't going to be used by the caterer – who was actually his mother, Jamie Satenstein. The food was donated by his guests, who'd been asked in the event's invitation to help fill the shelves of the five Mitzvah Food Pantry sites sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The result?

It took a delivery service pick-up truck to haul more than 100 bags of food to the Jewish Community Services Building for sorting and distribution, one of the drop-off sites throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

"It's important to feed people who are hungry," said Satenstein, summing up his four-pronged Bar Mitzvah project.

"I also cooked a simple meal of macaroni-and-cheese and made a salad to feed homeless people at Safe Harbor, a shelter in West Chester," said the eighth-grader at Peirce Middle School. In addition, he collected money for Mazon, a national Jewish response to hunger, and sorted food at a Salvation Army soup kitchen.

Satenstein's concern for the hungry also had him involved with his Boy Scout troop's holiday food drive for the Salvation Army.

"As a family, we have always tried to impress upon our children that sharing with those less fortunate was the right thing to do," said Jamie Satenstein. "We often buy some extra food to donate when we shop.

"It was important to our whole family – my husband Nik, Sheldon, and our younger son, Nigel – to make feeding the hungry an important part of this Bar Mitzvah," she continued. "At the luncheon, food was piled high in the big windows of the social hall, the centerpieces were food baskets, and the placecards were from Mazon."

Rabbi Eric Rosin, congregational leader of Kesher Israel, believes that Satenstein is "already a leader who is charismatic and articulate."

When he attended the synagogue's David Ari and Michael Eric Zukin Religious School (he's now at student at Gratz College community High School), the rabbi said that "Sheldon took to heart the ways the school makes little distinction between academic learning and acting on what has been learned. It is important to teach our students that tikkun olam – repairing the world – is a very important part of Judaism."

Sheldon cannot imagine the impact of what he's accomplished for his Bar Mitzvah project, according to Mark Rubin, Mitzvah Food Pantry associate. "Not only did he step forward as an adult to recognize the needs of the hungry, but he also showed true leadership by encouraging others to get involved."

When he's not volunteering, Satenstein plays football, baseball and runs track at school. "I like football best," he said.

Naming sciences and languages as his favorite subjects, the 13-year-old said he wants to become an actor. The acting bug bit when he played a munchkin in a school production of "The Wiz."

In everything he does, Satenstein noted that "friends are very important. In school and in sports, they help me out a lot."

For more information about the Mitzvah Food Pantry and volunteering, call Mark Rubin at 215-832-0525.



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