When 12-year-old Kaden Rogers saw that the Covid-19 pandemic had left some local families hungry and in need of household supplies, he collected donations to benefit them as part of his mitzvah project, a community-service deed in preparation for his bar mitzvah.
Kaden, of Lynbrook, planned to bring the donations to the Hatzilu Rescue organization, a nonprofit that maintains a large kosher food pantry at the South Baldwin Jewish Center. Hatzilu volunteers deliver food and supplies to residents’ homes.
Kaden and his parents organized a drive-by collection that lasted two hours on Jan. 10, at which family members, friends and neighbors donated cleaning supplies, paper goods and other household items.
He created a flier detailing his goal, posted it on social media and contacted his friends to spread the word.
“People contributed, actually, all week,” his mother, Allison Rogers, said. “The neighborhood was very generous. Once people saw pictures of Kaden and what he had collected on Facebook, more people wanted to donate.”
By the end of the week, Kaden and his parents loaded two pickup trucks and another car’s trunk with donations and headed to the South Baldwin Jewish Center.
“It was just nice to see how many people came out to support the project and to support Kaden,” Allison said. “We’re very proud of Kaden. I think mitzvah projects are very important for children so that they can experience firsthand how good it feels to help others.”
Her son said he appreciated being able to help out, Allison added, and he told her it felt better to give than to receive.
Many synagogues require students to perform social action projects, or mitzvah projects, before their big days. They are meant to highlight some of the most important values of Judaism, according to the United Jewish Federation, including compassion and repairing the world.
“It’s refreshing to hear, in today’s environment,” South Baldwin Jewish Center Co-president Jeff Barkan said, “that a young man can take the time to not only think about others, but actually formulate and carry out a plan that will help many in need.”
Seeing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic inspired Kaden’s mitzvah project.
“After learning my Torah portion for my bar mitzvah, I realized that the pandemic we are living through is similar to a plague,” he said. “Many people are hungry and need help. I asked my Hebrew school principal, Mrs. Gufre, how I could help people through my mitzvah project. She told me about Hatzilu, and I’m so happy that I could help.”
The project was meaningful to Kaden, Allison said, because he found similarities between the struggles of the Covid-19 pandemic and the struggles that Jews experienced when fleeing captivity in Egypt.
Kaden had his bar mitzvah in Lynbrook last Saturday.
The Hatzilu food warehouse, dedicated to Al Nevins, a former Hatzilu president, stocks an assortment of non-perishable food and has a large commercial refrigerator and freezer, allowing for the collection and distribution of perishable and non-perishable food items.
Volunteers with the organization also choose foods based on each client’s needs, whether they are gluten-free, diabetic-friendly or low-sodium items.
Kaden “brought us items that we cannot get from any other source,” said Dona Schwab, who runs the pantry. “They are supplies that our clients desperately need. Our volunteer deliverers have been bringing them to clients throughout Nassau County. They include sanitizing wipes — so important at this time. We even got toilet paper.”
Schwab added that Hatzilu provides food and resources to families regardless of race or religion.
The organization regularly receives pallets of food from Long Island Cares, in addition to other sources throughout the year, including Island Harvest, Tikkun Alliance’s “Pack it up for Purim” food drive, High Holidays food drives from Nassau County synagogues, the Shomrim Society Passover food drive and B’Nai Mitzvah Program.