The Armon family of Elkins Park participated in Federation's Mitzvah Mania effort last November, sorting and boxing food collected for the Mitzvah Food Project at the SHARE food program warehouse in North Philadelphia. Wendy Armon recalls that her then 6-year-old son, Spencer, had a ball. He even told her that he wants to do it again for his seventh birthday.
Spencer's wish was mom's command. Wendy Armon called Mitzvah Food Project volunteer coordinator Erica Goldberg for help in finding a suitable site for the April celebration. Goldberg made arrangements for the party to be held at the Fishman Auditorium at Congregation Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, one of the Mitzvah Food Project's five pantry locations.
Thirty-five children, many of whom were not Jewish, participated in the tzedakah-themed festivities. The guest list included many of Spencer's classmates and teachers at both the Highland Elementary School in Abington, where he is a first-grader, and the religious school at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, where Spencer, his mom, his dad Bruce, and siblings, Ross, 8, and Tess, 5, are members. The special guest was the synagogue's religious leader, Senior Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom.
"All of the guests received invitations affixed to brown paper bags, and were encouraged to go to the supermarket with their parents and discuss good deeds while filling up the bags with food for Mitzvah Food Pantry clients," said Spencer's mother. The children brought these bags to the party in lieu of presents.
Guests sorted the food and prepared 40 baskets for food-project clients.
To add a festive touch, each client who picked up a basket received a tissue paper flower made by a party guest. Cake was on the menu for the celebration, inscribed with a "Star Wars"- inspired mantra, "May the Mitzvah Be With You," as was party games — the favorite being Mitzvah Bingo.
"We got the idea for this from friends who host their daughter's party each year at Jewish Relief Agency," said Wendy Armon, adding that "Spencer has always had fun at these events."
Armon expressed considerable gratitude to Debbie Miner, religious-school director at Adath Jeshurun, and to the staff at Camp Ramah Day Camp for helping to instill strong, positive Jewish values in Spencer and his siblings.
The 7-year-old's commitment to those less fortunate remains impressive.
"When I asked Spencer why he wanted to do a mitzvah party, he said: 'It's important to think about other people all the time, even on your birthday.' "
The staff and leadership of the Mitzvah Food Project and Jewish Relief Agency hope that the Armon family's commitment to supporting these initiatives becomes contagious.
The State Food Purchase Program, which provides millions of pounds of nutritious food for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens, will receive $18 million under the terms of Gov. Ed Rendell's February 2010 proposal. Funding for this program has remained at the same level since 2007-08, despite a 70 percent increase in the number of participating households.
Lee Hillerson, who is serving her fourth year as chair of the Mitzvah Food Project advisory board, said that the proposed "flat" funding is akin to a budget cut in these tough times.
"Food prices have skyrocketed, and the cost of living has escalated — factors that drive more and more people to turn to food programs like ours to feed themselves and their families," she explained, emphasizing the need for additional increase of $2 million in allocations to the state food program for 2010-11.
According to Erica Goldberg, the proposed flat funding on the state level directly affects the Mitzvah Food Project.
"While we used to receive $90,000 from the State Food Purchase Program," we now get only $36,000," she said.
Hillerson asks that readers call their state senator to demand that an appropriation of $20 million be allocated to the State Food Purchase Program for the new fiscal year.
To locate your state senator, log on to: www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/senators_alpha.cfm and type in your ZIP code.
Hillerson also suggested that callers state their name, the city they live in and articulate that they are Pennsylvania citizens who are concerned with hunger.
"Tell them that you want to see $20 million allocated to the State Food Purchase Program," she urged, "and ask five of your friends to also make this important call."