Tag Archives: Mitzvah Mall

Mitzvah Mall Offers Unique Giving Opportunities – Sunday, November 17

What is Mitzvah Mall?
It is a holiday gift from Congregation Beth Sholom to the Anchorage community. Think about a non-denominational bizarre bazaar that is an alternative gift fair. In a room filled with decorative and informative tables, there will be 30 non-profit organizations with representatives to share their stories of the assistance they give to those in need.  The non-profits range from those supporting the arts to animal welfare agencies, from health and food assistance to safe places for troubled youth, several international aid groups, and many more. Although most of the organizational representatives are human, we will have birds, both rehabilitated wild and pets, and therapy dogs to help shoppers learn about three of the organizations.

What could be better than the gift of helping those agencies who help others?  And isn’t that better than another candle or pot holder? It is a fun event. Performers play acoustical music during the event.

“Gifts” are in various price ranges beginning at $5. Donors can receive a lovely card, filled out by a calligrapher, to send to the person honored by the gift.

Two faith traditions, one common cause—helping others

As the holiday season progresses, various faith organizations are gearing up to help others in our community. A pair of significant events this weekend are worthy of note. The Reform Jewish community and local Presbyterians are holding separate, but similar events this Sunday to raise funds for worthy organizations.

Mitzvah Mall, Congregation Beth Sholom, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday

If you’ve not experienced Mitzvah Mall, you’re in for a surprise. Imagine coming to an event that raises money for local nonprofits without the giver receiving anything in return. It’s something akin to a cash call at a gala. An annual event at Congregation Beth Sholom since 2008, it continues to grow.

“This is something that the congregation has done for a number of years,” explains Rabbi Michael Oblath. “We just provide the space, and gain nothing from it other than knowing that we can contribute a little bit of time and effort into bringing people into a place where they may talk to strangers or friends, meet new people, and, most importantly, bring a little joy into other people’s lives. We do it, just because it’s nice… and a good thing for the community… just seems like it’s the right thing to do. I’ve always seen it as a way to give a double gift… one to a friend, and one to someone that you may never know or meet.”

Intrigued by the word “mitzvah” in the event, I asked Oblath to explain the meaning. “Mitzvah translates as ‘commandment,’ so the commandments, as the guidelines and path to how we live our lives, reflect both relationship to God and to the world, even including humans,” he said. “Within the Reform movement we tend to conceive of the performance of the commandments as the way to achieve the healing of the world. That is the same notion as achieving peace and harmony in life… not just an individual’s life, but basically life in general.”

The way it works is local nonprofit organizations are invited to participate at the Mitzvah Mall and then chosen on a first-come/first-serve basis. Each organization is provided with a table for staff who present their organization. Those attending make contributions to any organization present in someone’s name. That person receives an elegant gift card noting the gift has been given in their name. The conversations I’ve had with nonprofit representatives at past events have helped gain a better understanding of their mission.

According to Penny Goldstein, organizer of Mitzvah Mall, the non-profits represented will include Alaska Botanical Garden, AK Child & Family, Alaska Innocence Project, Alaska WildBird Rehabilitation Center, American Diabetes Association, Anchorage Project Access, Bean’s Café/Children’s Lunchbox, Catholic Social Services, Equine Assisted Therapy of Alaska, FISH (Fellowship In Serving Humanity), Friends of the Library, Helping Hands for Nepal, Joy Greisen Jewish Education Center, Lemong’o Project, Malawi Children’s Village, Parachutes Teen Club and Resource Center, Pedals for Africa, Turnagain Community Arts Alliance, United Jewish Communities Alaska and Victims for Justice.

“If you want to send someone a present,” Goldstein says, “and are tired of the materialism or just can’t figure out a good present, here is your remedy. We have calligraphers to fill out lovely cards that you can send in lieu of, or with, other presents. It is a fun event. We have birds (two owls and a sandhill crane, plus a therapy dog) as well as human representatives of those agencies. We also have music!”

Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea are offered without charge, but no food is being offered. The event is about giving and learning more about the fantastic work being done by multiple nonprofits many may not know much about. Congregation Beth Sholom is located at 7525 E. Northern Lights Blvd. (just west of Carrs).

First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday

A similar event to Mitzvah Mall is First Presbyterian Church’s Alternative Gift Market. Open from 9:30  to 1:30 p.m. Sunda,  (except during worship, which begins at 11 a.m. and lasts about an hour) it offers gifts from a variety of mission partners First Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and Yukon Presbytery. Now in its third year, it’s slightly different from Mitzvah Mall.

According to organizer Danna Larson, the market is  “a combination of alternative giving and supporting agencies by buying fair trade products. We offer a fair and just way for our congregation to shop at Christmas, either through organizations that sell fair trade products or those that provide opportunities for one to donate in someone else’s name.”

This year’s partners include Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen, Anchor Presbyterian Church (homeless ministry), Presbyterian Hunger Fund Equal Exchange (fair trade coffee, teas and chocolate), Yukon Presbytery: Gambell (new church building), Haiti Artisan Network, Presbyterian Church (USA) Gift Catalog (featuring different projects to donate to in honor of someone), Pal Craftaid, Emergency Cold Weather Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Two Spirits Carving Studio (cooperative studio for Native artists), and Presbyterian Women.

For refreshments, Presbyterian Women are hosting a Christmas bake sale. A soup lunch that raises support for Downtown Soup Kitchen will be offered. In years past, I’ve purchased Haiti gifts and a variety of soups; both make great alternative gifts.

Curious about the focus of their ministry, I asked Larson for more information. “AGM is an appropriate nonprofit response to consumerism and provides a fair and just way for our congregation members to shop at Christmas and choose gifts that will make an important difference in helping people in our community, our nation and our world,” Larson said “In addition, congregation members have an opportunity to learn about the ministries represented and the importance of supporting those who are involved in fair trade practices. Often times, connections made at the AGM lead to other involvement in the local agencies represented.”

First Presbyterian Church is located at 616 W. 10th Ave.

It’s heartening to see individual faith organizations, like these, stepping up to the plate to infuse new spirit and meaning into a holiday season that has become devoid of meaning for many. If your organization is doing something innovative in the spirit of the season, like these two congregations, let me know. I’m always happy to share the joy.

Mitzvah Mall – Sunday, December 4, 12 — 3 p.m.

Congregation Beth Sholom is once again sponsoring MITZVAH MALL on Sunday December 4. It is a holiday gift from Congregation Beth Sholom to the Anchorage community. Think about a non-denominational bizarre bazaar that is an alternative gift fair. In a room filled with decorative and informative tables, there will be 20 non-profit organizations with representatives to share their stories of the assistance they give to those in need.  The non-profits range from those supporting the arts to animal welfare agencies, from health and food assistance to safe places for troubled youth, several international aid groups, and many more. Although most of the organizational representatives are human, we will have birds (Sandy the sandhill crane and two owls) and a therapy dog to help shoppers learn about two of the organizations.
What could be better than the gift of helping those agencies who help others?  And isn’t that better than another candle or pot holder? It is a fun event. Performers play acoustical music during the event.
“Gifts” are in various price ranges beginning at $5. Donors can receive a lovely card, filled out by a calligrapher, to send to the person honored by the gift.
DATE: Sunday December 4
TIME: 12- 3 PM
LOCATION: 7525 East Northern Lights Blvd. Next to Carrs Muldoon
Contact mitzvahmall@yahoo.com for more information.

Faith community giving offers local help during the holidays – 12/13/14

In my last column, I mentioned the outrageous sums people spend to celebrate Christmas by extravagant giving to one another, especially children, as well as alternative fundraising efforts by our faith community. Today’s column features fresh updates and reader comments about giving, plus some brief Advent music thoughts.

Advent Music Miscues

Advent began on Nov. 30 and many churches, including mainlines, began singing Christmas carols, just as the commercial radio stations commenced broadcasting them too. Traditionally, Advent is considered a mini-Lent, a symbolic period of hopeful watching and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Under this tradition, hymnody is restrained and songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “O Come, Divine Messiah,” are used. Unfortunately, many churches unabashedly burst into carol singing as if Christmas had already arrived, echoing the offensive commercial push that makes Christmas happen from before Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Part of what makes the Christmas season unique, religiously, is observing a period of looking and longing for the Messiah. To make it an accomplished fact seems to play into the hands of commercialism. Ultimately, by Christmas Eve, many are sick and tired of the sacred and secular Christmas music of the season.

Readers Voice Advent Concerns

One reader comments, “While I have donated years of cash payroll deductions to support charitable organizations, I don’t think it helps our children learn the life lessons of charity. My girls baked cookies, turkeys, vegetables, etc., to take to the shelter. The joy and excitement they felt was real, the handshakes and smiles of homeless patrons was real.”

I recall my parents taking their four children to hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, and church events to actively participate in sharing the joys of Advent with those in need. Toys were minor considerations. Our real needs and those of others were paramount.

Giving Updates

Last Sunday I attended four events in our faith community, three of which I mentioned in last week’s column.

Baxter Road Bible Church Service

I like this Bible-based church, and its friendly members. Rev. Bob Mather’s message on Sunday dwelt on the key themes of Christmas. As he observed, “It’s all about surrender.” When the offering was taken, Mather noted this was the fourth year all December offerings would be given directly to charity. BRBC confidently believes this year will push them up over $250,000 given over the past four years.

Mitzvah Mall

Attending the Mitzvah Mall was more fun than writing about it. Congregation Beth Sholom opened their synagogue from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday to 24 local nonprofit organizations with primary interests in our area. The few exceptions were Malawi Children’s Village and Helping Hand for Nepal, locally based but outwardly oriented. Nothing was sold. Donations were given, many in the names of others, to fund these organizations. I peeked at some of the checks being written and they were substantial. It was a crazy good time seeing the vibrant energy flowing from this event. Over $15,000 was given to these organizations in those 3 hours. I checked out every nonprofit and discovered some new to me. One great idea I learned was the concept of Tzedakah money. Each week the Jewish youth bring this Tzedakah (charity) money to Religious School where it is pooled. When Mitzvah Mall rolls around, the money is split up and given back to individual youth as Mitzvah Bucks which they spend for those organizations where they believe the money will do the most good. Congregation Beth Sholom transfers the money to those organizations, and is also willing to talk about their Tzedakah program with other faith organizations that might want to start their own youth giving initiatives. What a wonderful energizing way to involve the youth in giving to charity!

First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market

Arriving at First Presbyterian Church Sunday afternoon, just as they were closing, I had an opportunity to observe this new event. Approximately 10 “vendors” were there with holiday gift items. Bean’s Café was there with soups and coffee as was the Downtown Soup Kitchen. The Apparent Project had well-crafted handmade Haitian items for sale. The group’s purpose is to help parents take care of their kids, avoiding relinquishment and abandonment. I’m sure this event will grow next holiday season.

First and Samoan United Methodist Church free community dinner

These two congregations provided a tasty dinner for all called “A Place at the Table.” Served buffet style in the fellowship room of First United Methodist Church, many meals were gladly enjoyed, a great number by homeless and street people. It was a meaningful event for me personally as I met two delightful members with separate personal missions, which you’ll read about later.

Downtown Soup Kitchen connection

As a result of last week’s article, Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, introduced her organization to me. This remarkable organization provides daily soup meals, showers, and clothing to many underserved residents of Anchorage. For years, ChangePoint and City Church have provided heavy lifting for this great organization, a load now being shared by 27 congregations in our faith community. BP, ConocoPhillips, and the Boy Scouts of America are also huge supporters of Downtown Soup Kitchen, as are hundreds of volunteers. In their beautiful new facility, they feed 350-500 people daily, provide showers for 400 people per month, do more than 300 loads of laundry, and distribute more than 700 pieces of clothing. All of this is supported by more than 1,800 monthly volunteer hours. Currently they’re distributing about 350 backpacks, purchased for $20 by individual donors who then fill them appropriately with supplies for men or women. For a truly worthy cause, I suggest putting Downtown Soup Kitchen on your giving list.

Personally, I’m cheered by this faith community outpouring for those in need. Clearly, I’ve not covered all local projects and fundraising but I’m rewarded to mention these and have a personal opportunity to be a part of giving to these worthy organizations. Keep those stories coming in directly to churchvisits@gmail.com so they can be included in future columns.