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Workers Leave Desks, and Take to the Stoves

October 5, 2006 By:
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Steven J. Katz led an effort to assist needy seniors.
Rather than going into the office -- business as usual -- 15 employees of Premier Brokerage Services in Jenkintown did something a little different on a recent workday: They cooked and packaged dinners to be distributed to low-income, isolated or homebound seniors.

And they were paid for it.

The insurance and financial-service employees donned aprons and hair nets while preparing baked chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken-noodle soup, bread pudding and brownies at the Aid for Friends Frail Elderly Outreach Center in Northeast Philadelphia. The group cooked more than 300 dinners and 75 desserts during their shift late in the summertime.

The idea to take a break from a regular workday to go out and perform community service was the brainchild of Premier owner Steven J. Katz, who offers his 25-person staff two paid days a year to help with charitable causes.

"I think it's good to give back to the community," said Katz, who instituted his policy into the company's handbook four years ago. "It's important to set examples for others. I'm setting examples for 25 employees."

The workers, he said, consider it a day off.

"They absolutely loved it," declared Katz. "I like to think they are all charitable, but there's a social element to it as well. They can laugh at each other, if, for example, some know how to cook and some don't."

Aid for Friends feeds somewhere in the range of 2,200 people on a daily basis, according to Lynn Trombetta, food-safety manager, who was thrilled to get some extra assistance.

"It relieves my stress knowing there's enough in their freezers," she added, referring to the needy seniors.

Half and Half

Earlier this year, Katz guided his team to Stenton Family Manor -- a shelter in Germantown -- where the group did a bit of painting and even babysat for some children while their parents went off to work. Community-service outings are generally split over two days, so that while half of the staff volunteers, the other half can maintain a presence back at the office.

Katz is active in the Jewish community; he is a member at both Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park and Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim. In November, he will make his 25th trip to Israel, something he has dubbed his "silver anniversary." There, he will also visit his twin daughters, who are Akiba Hebrew Academy juniors taking part in the Alexander Muss High School program.

He and his wife Robin have two other children.

"I am passionate about Israel. I literally can't get enough," said Katz, a Conservative Jew who keeps kosher, but describes himself as not overly observant.

The 49-year-old attributed his views toward charity to his childhood: "Growing up and learning tzedakah, I learned that giving to others is part of our culture and part of our heritage."

Katz said he doesn't want to publicize his work so people can pat him on the back, but rather, to show others how it can be done.

"People who receive the food have no idea who my staff is, but it's important that others know we do it because it is setting an example: Get physically involved, and do some charitable things."

Katz ultimately hopes that his company's philanthropic outings will lead his employees -- and anyone else who learns of such endeavors -- to donate or pitch in a little more on their own time as well.

"If I can help one more person become more charitable," he said, "that's a very good thing."

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