Women’s group connects community through chesed
By Deb Silverthorn
“Love your fellow as yourself,” Rabbi Akiva once said. “This is a great principle of the Torah.” In establishing the Mitzvah of the Month program, Dallas’ Gina Tolmas has, for three years, ensured that she and a close-knit group love their fellows through acts of kindness.
“I’ve done mitzvah projects all my life and with my daughters for all of theirs but I wanted to do something to reach outside my own circle,” said Tolmas, who invites women from the community to participate in the organization. “People want to do good; they sometimes just need an avenue. I host many of the projects at my home, and it really is a social time as much as it is a mitzvah ‘moment.’”
Throughout July, the group is collecting school supplies to support Shared Housing Center. In August, backpacks filled to the brim will be given to more than 300 third- through eighth-grade students at the organization’s School is Cool Celebration.
“We love Gina’s group, and we really do count on them and those who support them. Their carloads of donations come from generous hearts,” said Shared Housing Center’s Executive Director Maria Machado. “Our children are either homeless or newly located, and for them to start off the school year prepared with the tools is so important. They know others are helping them and the feelings of respect and care are the greatest tools of all.”
Shared Housing Center offers services to meet the needs of homeless and near-homeless with supportive living environments that foster interpersonal growth and self-help. The Center runs two shelters with 15 units; a third will open next year with an additional 24 units. The families they help stay between three months and a year, some receiving support and remaining connected years into the future.
Many times throughout the year the group creates greeting cards to be included in Meals on Wheels delivered by the Visiting Nurses Association of Texas. With hundreds created in one sitting, be it Thanksgiving or the recent Fourth of July holiday, the craft project brings an evening of connection for the women, and joy to the recipients. Last year, in December, the group collected toiletries and packaged them in holiday stockings for Jewish Family Service’s Food Pantry. They also collected full-size toiletry items for JFS in June 2019.
“It has been proven time and time again that each personal touch and heart line we are able to provide to our clients helps in warding off depression and feelings of loneliness,” said Kim Peters, manager of corporate and community partnerships at the VNA. The VNA’s Meals on Wheels program delivers more than 4,300 meals daily in Dallas and Rockwall counties. “The VNA Greeting Card program allows volunteers to send light into our clients’ lives by writing to them,” Peters said. “This equals a longer and more lively life for those who suffer from debilitating diseases.”
Other organizations, including Anne Frank Elementary School, Attitudes and Attire, Austin Street Center, Family Place, Jewish Family Service, nonPareil Institute, Parkinson Voice Project, Operation Kindness, Ronald McDonald House and Task Force Dagger have also been beneficiares of the Mitzvah of the Month. Gloves and scarves, children’s books, water and snacks, school supplies and toiletries are a partial list of items collected and shared to these organizations.
In August 2019, the group will collect women’s clothing and accessories for Attitudes and Attire, which has served more than 22,000 women since 1996. The organization’s Core Program consists of workshops designed for women to recognize their self-worth, create a positive image and improve job-search skills. Upon completion of the workshops, each participant is invited to select workplace-appropriate clothing from a boutique stocked primarily with donations, such as those through Mitzvah of the Month. Attitudes and Attire also hosts its Hopeful Smiles program, a partnership with area dentists; and its Boots to Heels effort, which assists individuals in transition from military to civilian life by focusing on job readiness.
“It feels so good to do good and I love the connection to Rosh Chodesh, a special time for women,” said Hannah Lambert, who has volunteered to help Mitzvah of the Month since its inception. “It’s a wonderful and wholesome way to reach out to others. Gina makes it so easy, and she’s such a good hostess when we get together. It’s really a nice time with the gals, some sweets and doing good deeds. It’s terrific to combine fun and meaningful work.”