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Late in 2020 I received a call from Steve Nasiter, the President and CEO of the Jewish United Fund (JUF) of Metropolitan Chicago.  He told me about the Lavin Family Foundation from Chicago and how they wanted to have a presence in Florida as they had business interests here.  I reached out and spoke to them about two of their signature programs, CC’s Wish List and Enchanted Backpack.  The Federation became their partner for Central Florida with both of these incredible programs.

In 2021, we received our first shipment from CC’s Wish list.  It was amazing to see how many new items of clothing they provided to us.  We found partners throughout Central Florida to ensure that these clothes got into the hands of people in need.  The American Muslim Community Center (AMCC) in Longwood, Columbia Elementary School, homeless shelters, the Jewish Pavilion, and many others became our distribution partners as we helped people in need.  

A few weeks ago, we received our second shipment from CC’s wish list.  Once again, it was an incredible amount of clothing and we began working with our partners.  My friend Atif from the AMCC picked up 12 cases of clothing that they distributed on Parramore Ave.  He texted me as he was handing out the clothes to share the impact.  His words continue to inspire me, so I want to share them with you.

Hi Keith.  I am here in Parramore Ave.  The poverty here is heart breaking.  Drugs and crime ruin these neighborhoods.  So your support is so essential to provide hope and self-respect to families trying to get themselves in a better place.  

Every time I read his words, it strikes my heart deeply.  Our impact as a community is so significant.  Atif has connected us with both Serenity Grace and SALT Outreach, two additional programs that help those in need.  Partnering across the community is incredibly gratifying.  Today, volunteers from Victim Service Center of Central Florida came to get clothes for the women and children who they assist.  We were able to provide them with cases of women’s socks, underwear, lounge pants, t-shirts, and girls underwear.   Knowing that these women and children will have new clothes to wear and a little more dignity is incredibly gratifying.  Next week we will be sending a case of girls underwear to Columbia Elementary to ensure girls attending that school have what they need.

Speaking of Columbia Elementary, a few weeks ago they were able to receive a delivery from Enchanted Backpack.  Nearly $50,000 in retail value of school supplies were delivered to them by the Lavin Family Foundation and Enchanted Backpack in partnership with the Federation.  These items will fundamentally change the educational impact in that school.  We are so excited to be there when they hand them out to the students and to work with additional elementary schools in Orange and Seminole County and Enchanted Backpack.

Finally, our little food pantries continue to ensure families in need have to access to quality non-perishable food items.  We currently have two operating, one at Temple Israel and one at Central Florida Hillel on the UCF campus.  We are working to find teams and locations for 9 more pantries in our first phase of this work.  

As we prepare for Simchat Torah and the restart of the Torah, as we just concluded Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and as we think about what we want to do in the coming year, I’m proud of the work the Federation is doing to impact change in Central Florida.  There is so much more that we can do but we need your help to do it.  As you think about what you want to do in the upcoming year, if helping those less fortunate is on your list, please reach out to me so we can create our Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah committee that is tasked with making our community better.  

When Atif sent me that text and some pictures, I can’t tell you how good it made me feel.  When he shared stories of people who were impacted, I felt such gratitude.  Knowing that Victim Services Center has more resources to help women and children in need fills my heart.  And knowing that children at Columbia Elementary will have resources they never could have imagined because of the work of the Federation makes me incredibly proud.  Giving back and helping others is incredibly rewarding.  Selfless service does make a difference.  I encourage you to join me and the Federation in these efforts.

Shabbat Shalom 

Keith