One hundred volunteers gathered to pack Rosh Hashanah gift boxes for families supported by Camp Simcha.
The packathon was organised by software company founder Jenni Sacks in memory of her late mother, on the occasion of her yahrzeit.
The team, which was made up of young and old, joined forces at the charity’s headquarters in Golders Green, north London, to help pack 130 gift boxes containing toys, arts and crafts and things to keep children entertained, as well as MasterChef kits for honey biscuits.
Ms Sacks, 34, who lives in Belsize Park, said she tries to stage an initiative each year in memory of her mother, who passed away 27 years ago.
She said: “My mom was very action oriented and she was a doctor so Camp Simcha’s objective is aligned with what she dedicated a lot of her career to.”
Originally from South Africa, Ms Sacks emigrated to Australia but moved to the UK last year – which makes recruiting that many people to support her all the more impressive.
She said: “I’ve been blessed to have so many friends here who have become my family. “One family who came to pack was supported by Camp Simcha when their child was a baby.”
Daniel Gillis, Head of Services and Deputy CEO, said the gift boxes were sent out for the first time during the pandemic.
“When we couldn’t be there for families face to face, we started doing them and found it very successful,” he said. “We are so grateful to Jenni and her team of volunteers for choosing to mark her mum’s yahrzeit in this way – it’s a big job but with their support we got it done really efficiently.”
The charity, which supports families with seriously ill children, hopes the initiative will “lift spirits” at this time of year.
“The High Holy Days often bring extra pressures and can also feel isolating for some of our families, who have to grapple with the fact they cannot have a ‘normal’ yom tov. If their child is in hospital or needs round-the-clock care, festivals look very different,” explained Mr Gillis.
“We try to mitigate this in a variety of ways. The boxes are about providing something entertaining for children to do – while also giving parents some respite and creating that community of support from Camp Simcha.
In addition to the boxes, Camp Simcha will continue to help users in whatever they can during the Yom Tovim. Hospital transport, crisis meals and household support will all be part of the service, as well as anything individual families may require, such as respite care so a family can sit down to a Yom Tov meal or volunteers to be with siblings.
A big fun day out is planned for families during Succot and on the following Sunday, when the charity is also organising its first Grandparents’ day event.
The volunteers also gift wrapped honey cakes, honey pots and greeting cards which are being sent to 160 paediatric wards in London and Manchester as part of Camp Simcha’s ongoing hospital outreach campaign – to say thank you to staff but also to raise awareness.