"We're doing mitzvahs!" exclaimed Ben, who — along with father Brad and 7-year-old sister Emily — helped pack up and deliver boxes of food to local residents, a project sponsored and run by the Jewish Relief Agency.
The Sinrod family members joined nearly 550 other people at the JRA facility in Northeast Philadelphia on Sept. 9 during its monthly food-packing and distribution event. Volunteers from 15 different groups prepared some 2,190 boxes for delivery throughout the five-county region, as well as to parts of New Jersey and Delaware.
It also marked "Jewish Day- School Day," where about 100 families with kids at six local schools volunteered at the facility.
Inside the warehouse, folks started with an empty cardboard box, then proceeded down an organized assembly line, where people dropped in other nonperishable items like canned fruit and vegetables, chicken soup with matzah balls, a box of rice pilaf, jars of honey and horseradish, raisins, and a Rosh Hashanah card made by a child from Camp Ramah in the Poconos.
The volunteers then stacked up the boxes, which were eventually brought outside, so that groups like the brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi at Temple and Drexel universities could load them into cars set to make the deliveries.
Ari Charleston, a 19-year-old AEPi brother from Temple, said that the rewards of such work provided an unexpected bonus to normal frat life.
His fraternity brother, Mike Shulman, 20, noted that after they were done loading cars, the college students planned to do some deliveries as well.
"To know they're not going to get [kosher items] anywhere else warms their hearts," he said.
Amy Krulik, JRA's executive director, said that often, her clients either can't afford to pay for food, or are elderly and have difficulty managing the shopping.
"There's a tremendous food insecurity problem in the community," she explained. "Some don't have a car or don't have the physical ability to carry 13 pounds of food. We bring the food right into their kitchen."
Despite the large turnout, some 20 boxes remained undelivered by the end of the day, according to Krulik. The delay was due to an increase in the client base, while the number of volunteers had remained fairly the same. She said that all packages would be delivered by Sept. 11, well in time for Rosh Hashanah.
While some people packed and shipped food for the first time that day, many others were regulars, like Carol and Jon Harris-Shapiro, who managed to attend with their 13-year-old son Aryeh, even though he'd become a Bar Mitzvah the day before.
"It's really hands-on. It's a really great way for kids and adults to work together," said Carol Harris-Shapiro, who noted that the family has been volunteering with JRA since 2001. "It's not like writing a check. It's putting in your own time and your own labor."
After they worked up a sweat packing, the family hopped into the car and made deliveries to a familiar route in the Northeast.
"I think they like seeing the kids come to the door. And having the same route each time, I think there's a little bit of a relationship that develops," said Jon Harris-Shapiro. "For some people, it could be their only social connection for the day."