LUTZ – Members of Congregation Beth Am spend Easter and Christmas helping others have a great holiday.
Although the Jewish members don’t celebrate the holidays in their faith, they believe the children at Joshua House – a home for abandoned and abused children – should enjoy the day. The home houses children between the ages of 6 to 17 who are in state custody.
So Easter Sunday, like they have for the past 14 years, about 20 volunteers arrived at Joshua House with bags of food, drinks, craft supplies and their best “listening ears.”
“Easter is a special day; but it isn’t special if you don’t have family or anybody who makes you feel special,” said Tracy Falkowitz, a member of Beth Am and group organizer.
Falkowitz, a Tampa Palms resident, also serves as chairman of the board of the Friends of Joshua House, a fundraising group for the home. She said saw the need for holiday support soon after joining the Friends’ board 15 years ago.
“Those holidays are focused on families,” she said. So she started recruiting other members from Congregation Beth Am, located at 2030 W. Fletcher Ave., to assist her with her plans.
“It’s one of those under-the-radar things. We (the Jewish members) really don’t have anything else to do,” Falkowitz said. “So why not do something for them so they don’t feel so left out, so forgotten.”
The project came to light this year at the Child Abuse Awareness Luncheon earlier this month, where Congregation Beth Am was presented the first Olin Mott Golden Heart Award. It is named in memory of a founder of Joshua House who died in 2013.
Falkowitz, an attorney with Banker Lopez and Gassler, buys the food and supplies herself, occasionally getting a donation from others involved.
The food included hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips, lots of sodas and juices, as well as plenty of cookies to decorate with icing, sprinkles and a crowd favorite, chocolate chips. Craft projects included painting small birdhouses, keepsake boxes, picture frames and cloth purses.
On Easter about 20 teens and pre-teens were at the home with some residents away on visits to see relatives, potential adoptive parents or others. The residents live in cottages, which are overseen by staff members, including Ebony Saunders.
She said such events are good “because they have fun, get gifts, play and interact with each other. They can spend time with their siblings.”
Some of the volunteers’ time was just sitting and talking – showing an interest in whatever the resident wanted to talk about. In some cases, the residents were withdrawn, leaving the volunteers to do much of the talking. Still, most who tried got at least one smile on a young person’s face.
Martin Muschol spent Easter afternoon over a grill, preparing hot dogs for the residents and several staff members who were working.
“I think it really hard to be in their situation,” Muschol said. “We just want them to know do care about them and to make it a little special.”